‘A different kind of special’

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A line from one of Buju Banton’s most philosophical songs goes, ‘circumstances make me what I am’. And, unfortunately, those words are true for a lot of people, as their circumstances determine their response to life.

But for 22 year-old Vinette Cowans, the hold of poliomyelitis on her limbs has not stopped her from defying her circumstances.

Cowans told the Jamaica Observer that she was diagnosed with the disease shortly after birth and for many years saw her condition as a curse. She said she questioned God, “Why me?” But after surviving depression and a suicide attempt Cowans had an epiphany.

“At the time I thought I was going crazy. I did not want to feel any more pain. I went to church and they were talking about how God is able to do anything. And I thought, if he is so able, how can I be suffering and he is not helping?” To this, she said an inner voice replied, “I am helping, but you are not allowing me to help.”

“I really heard the voice say I wasn’t helping myself. So I figured it was time to drop the negative attitude”. Since then, Cowans has started her own floral arrangement business, which she operates from home. She revealed that she always wanted to be her own boss.

“I have always wanted to become independent, instead of being so dependent on persons. To me, my business is a platform for that. It has its ups and downs, but at the end of the day I love what I do.

“I spend my time on a daily basis marketing the business on social media, and researching. And a few years from now when I do seek to expand and take on employees, I definitely plan to target persons like me.”

Quite the advocate, Cowans explained that it is especially hard for persons living with disabilities to gain employment. She mentioned humorously the letters she has received from would-be employers who cited her condition as a reason for not employing her. She, however, explained that she has learned to turn people’s perception of her into her source for strength and resilience.

“For me, I take people’s negative comments and I put a positive spin on it or I tell myself something else. I don’t let what people say about me hit me so much that I let it hurt me. I let negative comments become my motivation. Life is hard, but it’s not so hard that you cannot overcome it. You have to look within yourself. I believe that my abilities are stronger than my disabilities. That takes me through many days,” she stated.

Also a big fan of Nick Vijuici, a famous motivational speaker who was born without limbs, the young entrepreneur told the Sunday Observer that one of her major goals is to become a motivational speaker herself. She said growing up, she wish she had an example of someone like her who was not only overcoming the odds, but also inspiring others to do the same.

“There are certain things I wish I knew when I was younger, like the fact that it is ok to be different. People let me feel like being different was a bad thing, and I want to empower people out there and let them understand that your circumstances do not define who are. You might be missing an arm or a leg, but you still can accomplish anything. Don’t let anybody tell you that you cannot do it because of your circumstances”.

As someone who had strong family support, Cowans conceded that others might have had more difficult experiences, but she insisted that what makes the difference is self-belief.

“I realise that many persons don’t have the support that I have. There are a lot of persons with disabilities on the street, but I am sure if they had the opportunity to get out of that situation, they would take it in a heartbeat.

“But the reality is, people tend to look at us [persons living with disabilities] and see our disabilities first. They don’t care about the person behind the disability. We have been judged so much that for some of us, we stop trying, because what is the sense of trying if people are going to just look down on you and tell you that you can’t do something. And not many people have someone to push them when they feel like they can’t go on anymore. But the key is not to wallow in it.”

Cowans said she learned this from experience, admitting that, “I know what it is like to get up and hate seeing the sunlight.” But this, she said, was a process she had to go through to get to where she is now.

“I think that my disability just makes me a different kind of special. It pushes me to be extraordinary. There is nothing I can’t do. The only time I think I can’t do something is if I stop myself. Nothing stops me, not even my confinement to a wheelchair. As long as I have drive and persistence and determination I can do anything I put my mind to, “with the exception of riding a bicycle. I wish I knew how to, because I can’t balance on one. But I want to drive a car, and I am going to figure out how to get there. Resilience is something we have to learn. We all have inner greatness, and after a while we start to see that greatness.”

Cowans said she will be pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business management while continuing her business.

“This is just the beginning of life’s journey for me. I don’t know how long my life will last, but I believe that if I fail to plan, I plan to fail. And I am not going to fail. Failure is not in my DNA,” she asserted.

 

 

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