I was apprehensive and excited. I did not know how my interview with Fadia Haroon, mother of an eight-year-old, Shayaan, from Bahrain, would be. But I knew here was a mother-son duo that do not take no for an answer and are determined to overcome it all together.
The duo share with Yasmeen Maqbool the amazing spirit and attitude they have towards life.
Fadia is teaching her son one of life’s greatest lessons: No challenge is too large to overcome. Shayaan is a happy young lad who loves to swim, jog, build things with Legos, practices Taekwondo, works at the computer, eats, drinks and does whatever a boy his age does. So what is so amazing about him you might wonder?
Well, Shayaan was born without arms. He suffers from Dysmelia, a congenital amputation and birth defect involving limbs that occur in 1 per 1,000 births. To most of us, the first word that fits his appearance would be ‘disabled’. “It is human nature to make an opinion based on physical appearance. When we see someone who is mentally or physically different than us, we presume he is handicapped or disabled,” says Fadia.
Nine years ago, Fadia could not have thought even in her wildest imaginations that one day she would look at dis-ability so positively.
She traces back in time: “On 11th December 2006 I had my second child. My son Shayaan, was born that day bringing with him shock, disbelief and unimaginable pain. He was born with no arms. We were all mourning instead of celebrating the new addition in the family. While the whole family cried, my older son Sheheryar (6 at the time) accepted his younger brother with open arms and an open heart!”
Fadia continues, “Sheheryar showed me all the body parts that Shayaan HAD, rather than focusing on the ones he did not. I then looked at my baby for hours concentrating on his tiny eyelids and ears that showed the most intricate network of capillaries and wondered how the creator could miss making his arms? How could He forget and how could He make a mistake?” she asked.
Fadia knew the answers but at the time her helplessness gave way to irrational reasoning. While the shock and stress took its toll, she prayed for acceptance and peace. Little did she know that it was the first step to happy times ahead!
Her family was her only support at the time. Her elder brother, Farrukh Shah Khan in the USA, sent her links to support groups around the world. These groups became her saviours. “I searched for days and months for anyone like my son Shayaan and finally I found Frank Letch,” she says. He became her mentor, guide and confidant.
“I exchanged innumerable emails with him, tears running down my cheeks at every sentence,” she recalls. She wanted to know how he grew up, how he went to school, how he coped with people’s reactions and how he got the confidence to face the world!
She once asked him if he ever wished he had arms and Frank replied, “If I had hands, I would not be who I am today.” Frank is a father of five healthy children; he is a teacher, a singer and a trustee of REACH association for upper limb deficient people, knows five languages and is the mayor of his town Crediton (Devon, UK).
Frank has visited them twice and has taught Shayaan everything: Eating, drinking, swimming, dressing up and using the toilet. He has taught the family the meaning of the word POSITIVITY! “I owe a lot to Frank and his lovely wife Natalia in transforming our attitude towards disability,” Fadia is grateful, “My husband, Omer Qureshi, believes that people like Frank are angels sent to change the way we see life.”
Today Shayaan is a student of the British School of Bahrain. He is in year 3 with friends all around. He takes active part in all school activities and is liked by his teachers. The kids are generally kind and helpful but some can be very inquisitive. A six-year-old boy kept asking Shayaan about his arms every day for many days. To him “born without arms” was not a logical answer. So Shayaan cleverly made up a story after which the boy never bothered him again……he said, “the sharks ate them!”
Fadia believes, “We are only disabled if we want to be!” Shayaan does not want to depend on anyone so he puts in 110 percent of his efforts. He struggles more than others as he works with his feet. But his determination, willfulness and rigidity make goals achievable.
Fadia runs a support group called SFS – Special Families Support group. “I have seen the talent these specially abled children display and the purity of their hearts that make them stand out among ‘normal’ people,” she says.
“My husband and I look back at our life after Shayaan, and we see a PLAN, a plan by God that is so perfect. A plan that made my family and me celebrate disability,” Fadia says. She believes that the only disability is the inability to see the ability!