The book Real Kids, Real Stories, Real Challenges profiles kids who have overcome challenges. You might recognize Malala Yousafzai, who chose to risk death to attend school. There’s also Soosan Firooz, who broke barriers to become Afghanistan’s first female rapper and speak out about the oppression and hardship women in her country face. You’ll learn about Kelvin Doe in Sierra Leone who built his own radio station despite a lack of resources, and Kevin Breel, who speaks out about his own depression to help save lives.
To celebrate the recent release of Real Kids, Real Stories, Real Challenges, we’re sharing Jhamak Ghimire’s story here on the Free Spirit blog. After the story, you’ll find the accompanying discussion prompt from the Teacher’s Guide to the series, which you can download for free from our website and use with your students.
Life Is a Flower Among Thorns
When Jhamak Ghimire was a baby, her parents brought her to local healers to try to cure her useless limbs. Her parents paid with chickens and eggs. Eventually, her parents traveled from their small village in Nepal’s rural eastern foothills to a larger town where Jhamak could be seen by medical doctors at a hospital.
Unfortunately, Jhamak’s physical challenge was not something that could be fixed by any type of medicine. Before Jhamak was born, her brain hadn’t gotten the oxygen it needed and part of her brain died. She had a condition called cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy affects people differently. For Jhamak, it meant that the only limb she could control was her left leg.
As she grew older, it became clear that Jhamak also wasn’t able to speak. Her family assumed that meant she was unable to think as well. Many people in Nepal believe in the idea of reincarnation—that when you die, your soul or spirit is reborn into another body. Jhamak’s family saw her disability as a punishment for evil deeds she had done in a past life. To them, it was Jhamak’s destiny—her karma—to suffer. Her family thought that the best Jhamak could hope for was to die soon so that she could be reborn into an able body. They called her “the serpent” because she could only move by pulling herself across the floor with her left leg. When she did, sometimes Jhamak’s parents beat her for getting her clothes dirty.
Jhamak’s parents eventually had more children, including another daughter they named Mina. When Jhamak and Mina were young, Jhamak would pull herself close to Mina. Even though Jhamak couldn’t communicate in the traditional sense, the sisters became close.
Jhamak liked to imitate Mina. When Mina was learning how to write, Jhamak copied her movements, using her left toe to make marks in the mud of their yard. Jhamak was beaten for this too—her parents believed a superstition that writing on the ground would cause bad luck. Her family thought Jhamak’s pretend writing was nothing more than senseless scratches by a senseless girl. What was the point?
But Jhamak didn’t stop scribbling. She would use dew from the garden or rainwater that had collected in a bucket to make marks on stones—marks that would evaporate before she could be punished. One day, when Jhamak was making marks in the yard again, she realized that the marks were more than just marks. In the dust of their yard, she had written the letter “ka,” the first letter of the Nepali alphabet.
“I rejoiced by blowing dust all around with a hope that someone would see the letter and realize that a useless disabled girl like me could write. But no one did. Instead, I was beaten again for blowing dust,” she said.
With Mina’s help, Jhamak learned to make more letters and eventually to write the alphabet. She learned to combine letters into words. Mina saved her money and bought Jhamak a notebook.
In the notebook, Jhamak wrote about her life and hopes—even her dream that one day she would fall in love—and about the challenges she had faced. With Mina’s help, she started sending poems and essays to a local newspaper. Like her life, some of her writing was not happy, but it was always honest.
When she was 19 years old, Jhamak published an autobiography titled A Flower Amidst the Thorns. In the book, she described her family’s cruelty and wrote about the roles of women in Nepal. She wrote about how construction workers made a game of throwing balls of mud at her, trying to hit exposed patches of skin where her clothing had worn away. Yet despite all the bad luck, poverty, discrimination, and cruelty she had faced, Jhamak also wrote about kindness and hope. To Jhamak Ghimire, even though she had experienced terrible challenges, life remained more like a flower than a thorn.
From Real Kids, Real Stories, Real Challenges: Overcoming Adversity Around the World by Garth Sundem, copyright © 2018. Free Spirit Publishing Inc., Minneapolis, MN; 800-735-7323; www.freespirit.com. All rights reserved.
For discussion, ask your students to consider the following: In this story, Jhamak Ghimire is a voice for people with disabilities. Do you think that in order to be a “voice” for a group of people, you need to be included in that group? For example, could you be a voice for people with disabilities if you don’t have a disability yourself? If you were going to be a voice for a group of people, who would it be and why?
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