A VACCINATION gone wrong left Muzaffar Haydarov with infantile paralysis as a toddler.
Growing up in the Uzbek city of Almalyk was difficult as there was very little support provided to children with his condition.
“I could not play with the other kids,” Muzaffar lamented through his translator, Dilmurad Yusupov.
The portly 37-year-old speaks Russian and Uzbek but no English. They were in Malaysia to attend the Training of Trainers on Disability Equality Training (DET) held in Kuala Lumpur recently.
“In my childhood, I did not have a wheelchair. It was difficult for me to go out. I was always envious of my friends when they came to see me. They could go anywhere they wanted to but I was always at home. I felt sad because of my inability to walk.”
Without a wheelchair, he could not go to school. Even if he had a wheelchair, the environment would have been difficult for him to move around independently. He went to a boarding school for disabled children but his parents took him back after only a short while there.
“They said it was better to receive an education at home. My parents were not comfortable with me being alone in the school because I needed assistance with some of my activities.”
Nevertheless, Muzaffar was told that education is important. His future would be bleak without one. With no opportunity to go to school, the idea of studying became just a pipe dream that he did not consider taking up seriously from then on.
“We thought the future was very far away. Now I regret I did not go to school to get a proper education.”
His first taste of freedom was at the age of 17 when he received his first wheelchair. With his new-found mobility, he took up apprenticeship with a shoemaker. Even then, his parents discouraged him. They told him that being a shoemaker was difficult and that he would not be able to make shoes. He slogged on nonetheless.
“My biggest dream was to have a family and live independently from my parents. My girlfriend then was also a disabled person. When we decided to get married, my parents and my friends told me that we would not be able to build a family. There were few jobs for disabled people and the fact that we were both disabled made it doubly difficult.”
The lack of support from the people around him did nothing to discourage him. He decided on his own to get married anyway.
“I have my own family now. I live independently and have my own business. This dream has come true,” he said with a glint of satisfaction in his eyes.
They are blessed with two sons aged 11 and six. Muzaffar supports the family by running a small but thriving business dealing in sundry items.
Early last year, the Uzbek government provided credit for entrepreneurs to develop the livestock industry in the country. Muzaffar was one of the successful applicants. He now owns a flock of goats, sheep, cattle and horses.
On why he chose to raise livestock, especially when he is a wheelchair user and may face difficulties in rounding up the animals, his matter-of-fact answer was: “Every business has its own difficulties.”
He added that his wife and elder son are assisting him in the venture together with two full-time workers.
“Disabled people in Uzbekistan are facing a lot of difficulties,” said Muzaffar, “but I also feel that the government is paying more attention to disability issues and the problems that we are facing lately.
“For example, a new law was implemented recently to ensure that new buildings provide accessible facilities like ramps, handrails and toilets for disabled people. If these facilities are not included, the application would be rejected. On the other hand, we have too many old buildings from the Soviet-era, which are mostly inaccessible. So these are the problems.” (Uzbekistan was part of the Soviet Union between 1924 and 1991.)
“In such cases, the mahallas will look into making the buildings more accessible on a voluntary basis. Mahallas are neighbourhood councils that manage the social and communal activities such as supporting disabled people and senior citizens, resolving marital conflicts and assisting in poverty issues in the community, among others. There is one in each community. They work for the betterment of the communities and country.”
Muzaffar decided to take the long journey to Malaysia because he wanted to learn the ways to make the built environment accessible. His aim is to become a DET trainer so that he can create awareness of the problems faced by his peers back in Uzbekistan and improve the situation.
“I have so many plans after this. I have learnt so many things. I want to spread this knowledge back in my country. I want to open the eyes of people like me and empower them, let them discover their self-confidence which they have not realised.
“I want to see equality for disabled people where we can work in the same place, ride in the same bus and go to the same school as non-disabled persons. In Uzbekistan, when I go out in the streets, they stare at me. They often look at me with a sense of pity, like I am always in need of something from them. I hope to change this attitude and perception.”
His greatest wish now is for both his sons to get a proper education.
“I didn’t have this opportunity when I was young. I want them to be educated. And I will be very happy.”
Time and again, through sheer grit and unwavering determination, Muzaffar has proven that he can accomplish anything when he put his heart and mind into it. With this spirit, he certainly can bring about the desired changes to empower and enable disabled people in Uzbekistan.
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