There is something fascinating about the number seven!
What exactly it is, we cannot tell. There are seven days in a week, seven continents in the world, seven colours of the rainbow and seven wonders of the ancient world. Furthermore, Muslims walk seven times round the Kaaba in Mecca, Judaism professes the world is made of seven heavens, while the Christian religion has a Bible punctuated with the number seven. We did a little research at LR about the number seven – the conclusion we came to is that irrespective of creed, race or religion, the number seven is unique. “Lucky seven”, “Magnificent Seven” and “007” are phrases that have graced our screens over the years.
So, when team LR was approached last year, by a total of seven persons, mutually exclusive of each other, then it could not have been a co-incidence. All seven persons are from different locations across the world and they each contacted us on seven different occasions about one individual who they each believed we needed to feature on this e-motivational space. Team LR had to sit up and take a look. Seven cannot be wrong – seven is unique.
This individual is indeed unique. A rare and special breed that inspires in every facet of life. One whose unapologetic self-love is the motivation for getting results. When you are born different, how do you cope in life? How do you surmount being a “left-handed” person in a “right handed” world? How do you negotiate the stereotype that is the bane of our societal existence and become a beacon of hope to others? Read the story of this beacon of hope in today’s world to understand why seven people and the entire LR team cannot be wrong.
CHALLENGING YOUR CHALLENGER.
My name is Chinwe Anyaehie-Iromuanya (Chi chi Iro). I wish I had a single word that could describe me but there is no such word. I am going to bore you with all the things that I have been given the grace to be. The first thing that I will want to let you know is that by the world’s standards I am one not qualified in any way to be any of the things that I am about to lay claim to.
Why? I am sure you will ask that. I was born with cerebral palsy1 over fifty years ago in Nigeria, during a civil war at a time when disability was greatly misunderstood, the world over. My type of disability is made complex by the unique movement pattern of one living with cerebral palsy. It may amaze you to know that I am totally unaware of these movements because by some luck, I manage to live in some level of denial about my condition, which enables me to dare to do the things that others do without the inhibitions of self-doubt. Occasionally, I am reminded of my uniqueness when I watch a video of myself or when others remind me that I am different, somehow almost immediately I get this revelation, I revert to my default which is functioning as one without inhibitions.
Cerebral palsy has me moving with a spastic gait. (So I hear!) Lately too, I have secretly admitted that it is the reason for my unique vocal chords. (My bedroom voice!) ha ha ha!
I have been blessed to find the courage to suppress my condition, to become a lawyer, author, motivational speaker, disability advocate (CEO Enabled life Organization), health coach, minister of God and my two favourite roles of wife to my husband of 25 plus years and mother to my four sons.
Do not ask me how one can accomplish these things with Cerebral Palsy? I truly do not know how it happened. I owe my gratitude to the Almighty God, for equipping me with all I needed to function despite all odds. I am also grateful for the family I was born into especially my Mum.
My Mum was the one who never accepted any signs of weakness from me. From a young age, she made me believe I could do anything. My family never treated me differently. In fact they challenged me by always expecting more from me.
Mama made me realize early that education was my passport to independence, in my book “Healing through my stories”, I wrote how she drove me to my secondary school boarding house and left me there. I was frozen in fear but I already knew from my previous encounters with my Mum that neither pity nor comfort resided within her (so I wrongly thought then). Now that I am older, I understand why she had to take that position. I have also come to understand how much love and empathy she had bottled up in her and how hard it must have been, for her to put on all that mask of “the hard woman” all those years ago. She wore that “hard woman mask” to push me. She pushed and pushed and by the time I made it to the Nigerian law school in 1988 there was no option of a retreat. She had pushed me to that critical point where I was now determined never to go back but to soar! Thanks to her, I became the first person living with cerebral palsy to graduate from the Nigerian Law School.
Law School opened a whole new door for me, it was while I was there that I met Tony Iro, seriously speaking I was not looking for a husband, he was handsome, kind and intelligent, I was enjoying friendship with him. Friendship with Tony was addictive; He could not get rid of me easily just like I could not get rid of him. We carried on back and forth for five years after we met before we became husband and wife. He is exactly what the doctor recommended for a girl like me. God knows I tried discouraging him because I did not think it will be fair to put the burden of marrying someone with my level of disability on anyone especially someone as young as Tony Iro when we met. He was only in his early twenties then. Each day he made me reconsider the possibility of marriage contrary to my original decision that marriage, for someone like me in the Nigeria of 80s and 90s was impossible.
Though marriage was a frightening choice for me, I wanted children so bad. I was an independent girl and I knew I might get children without putting any burden on anyone. Of course, my good friend was there, who else would make an excellent choice for a Father than my sensitive boyfriend of five years? The only problem was that he did not want children out of wedlock. I guess at this point, there was no doubt in my mind that he would not hurt me.
We got married in 1994 and few months later, I gave birth to our first Son.
There is something about my marriage to Tony that gives me great confidence…he allows me to be me. He is an excellent cheerleader, very protective of me. When I look in his eyes I see that I am worth fighting for.
Motherhood was the icing on the cake for me, when I fantasized about children, I did not think of the reality of the uncertainty that would also be a part of that adventure for someone like me. Four incredible sons down the road, they are the reason that I soar today. I see the tenderness, hope, admiration and prayer in their eyes. I have a dynamic relationship with our four men ranging from18-23 years. They see me as a pillar of strength and that means a lot to me. I make sure I keep up that image and do not let them down. Sometimes people ask me how my sons feel having a mother like me? I sincerely answer that I do not know. I know it must not be easy for them, having to answer to their friends concerning my condition and sometimes also worrying if I will be okay. With time, we have found our normal as a family.
It has not been easy playing the role of wife and mother but I tackle these roles with a positive attitude, planning and focus while simultaneously appreciating and celebrating my uniqueness. Taking life one day at a time and doing the best that I can have been my motto. I know my abilities and my limits. I focus on my abilities and downplay my limits while trying to improve on them. Planning helps me do things. I spend more time planning than doing.
I believe in putting my best in all that I do. I do not have to be perfect but I show up if I say I will. I believe in the fact that practice makes perfect. If something challenges me, if I am interested in doing it, I will work on it till I get better. I believe in possibilities and the power of dreams. If you can dare to dream it, you can attempt it. I love to use my stories and work to encourage others to believe in the power of their dreams.
I do not just encourage and motivate those living with disabilities but anyone living beneath their abilities. I am particularly interested in those living with physical disabilities and it was this passion that led to the birth of the Enabled life Organization. We use this platform to introduce a new world of possibilities to those living with challenges in Nigeria. At the time I grew up in Nigeria, there were no role models; I never saw anyone that had any form of disabilities make any remarkable progress in education, relationship or any other aspect of life. They were hidden behind closed doors! It was disheartening to still learn that 50 years later not much has changed.
The stigma faced by my people was enormous. I decided through the Enabled life to break the silence concerning living a full life with disability. I decided to lead Nigeria to experience the new face of ability in disability. To let them know that yes we can excel in every aspect of life. We are beautiful, intelligent and dynamic.
The other areas that I also made a huge impact in, was marriage, relationship and motherhood. These were areas that were out of bounds for anyone like me, living with disabilities. Through the work I do, I represent hope to the mother of that child living with disabilities that she cannot give up on her child. I represent endless possibilities to that adult living with disabilities that the sky is their stepping stone. I represent discovery and encouragement to individuals who doubted that a person living with disability can be a great lover and spouse. I represent motivation to the rest of my generation. All these things I represent keep me motivated. It is a cycle of inspiration; people get motivated by my life and I, in turn, tap from their motivation to power my daily inspiration.
Sometimes I am conflicted in what I am and what I am not, as well as what I can do and what I am limited in doing, I say enough of trying to be one or the other. I can be all that I have been given the grace to be and much more. I am human with abilities first and not a freak of nature. On my Facebook page, I air my thoughts and open them up for discussions.
The Enabled life Organization gives me the platform to motivate and empower all seeking to live any challenging life to the fullest. I am able to marry my health coaching background with the analytical thinking of a lawyer, the balance of a minister of God and finally the resilience of one who has overcome deep pain. Anyone can benefit from the topics that I write on: they range from overcoming disability to marriage and relationship and general life skills. I have also used my books to bring awareness to issues that affect people living with disabilities. Most of my books are biographies but just recently I tried my hands on fiction. Writing fiction gave me the liberty to discuss those subject matter that though I may not have experienced personally, are issues experienced by most people living with disabilities in Nigeria.
My general view in life is that.
We are all broken one way or the other, people with visible challenges are discriminated against and for most, all they seek is a chance to be. For those that do not have visible challenges, they get a fair chance to life because it is automatic but on their own, they cry out for help because they have chosen to believe the lies of the enemy that they are not normal. Normal is a standard created to include; however, it excludes based on man-made rules, therefore, in my opinion, no one is normal or abnormal, you owe yourself the duty to function the best you can under any conditions.
Anything is possible for anyone as long as they are ready to dare and put in the work! People like me never get a chance on a platter, we have to demand it, not because people are mean but because they are not sure what we are capable of doing. Do not take opposition as a reason to retreat but a chance to prove your worth. Put in your best effort and when that opportunity comes up again, you would have earned a second chance. We have nothing to lose by trying; we may be surprised we will succeed. Neither my Mother nor myself believed I would get this far.
Life is simple and uncomplicated. Keep life simple, take decisions that you know you will be proud to own and just live your best life. Never live in regrets, it pulls you back. If you make a mistake, take the lessons and forgive yourself. Do not spend your entire life wishing you could turn back the clock. Look forward. Life is about understanding the time and season you are in at the moment. Self-love is the greatest gift of all. Rediscover you! Embrace you and all your flaws!
No other like you!
Watch “50 years of conquering Cerebral Palsy: Chi Chi Iro’s story” on YouTube
Our dear readers, there is nothing more to add. Chi chi Iro has said it all in the way only she can. Tell us what you think in the comment section, about this lady, who is one of the motivational wonders of her generation.
*1 For those of you our dear readers who wish to know more about the science of Cerebral Palsy, click on this link*
Many thanks to Loretta Ogboro-Okor for putting this together with the very unique Chichi Iro.