Story submitted by Millennium Relief and Development Services/Partner Aid International

When Ikhlas was a young girl in El Fasher, North Darfur, her life took a tragic turn when she contracted polio. The disease has been nearly eradicated worldwide following the advent of safe and effective childhood vaccinations, but in a few pockets of the world, poor access to health care means that children become disabled or die from preventable causes.

Throughout her life, Ikhlas has battled others’ misguided perceptions that because she is disabled, she is unable to hold a normal job or do anything of value. Although she was an active member of the Darfur Disability Society, people only focused on her handicap when she interviewed for jobs.

In 2010, Ikhlas interviewed with USAID partner Millennium Relief and Development Services/Partner Aid International (MRDS/PAI) in North Darfur to become the supervisor of rural clinics. Many MRDS/PAI staff were concerned that she would not be able to travel to villages or would be a burden to others during field trips, but some saw in Ikhlas a spark with great potential. Ikhlas’ first assignment was to help start a new clinic in Grawid Besham, a village with no health care services within 20 kilometers. Ikhlas organized a village health committee to oversee the work of the clinic, involving all relevant government organizations.

Ikhlas spent several months traveling to rugged rural areas, working with the community to remodel the clinic and to build residential facilities for medical, monitoring, and support staff.  After months of hard work mobilizing the community and government agencies into action, the clinic opened in 2010 and the community celebrated the arrival of health care services to the village.

With USAID support, the clinic in Grawid Besham is providing health care for up to 8,000 rural Darfuris. Ikhlas is now helping to prevent other children from contracting a disease that has created so many challenges in her own life. Grawid Besham is the first of four clinics that Ikhlas has helped USAID and its partners open in the area.

“I am really fortunate to show that I am able to work in spite of my disability,” Ikhlas said. “The stigma is still very high in people thinking disabled people can’t do anything. So I thank God, my family—for giving me permission to work outside of town—and I thank my employers for not seeing only the outside and my inability but encouraging me to show my abilities. To me, this is real partnership and it has changed my life and I hope the lives of many others not only in health care but also in their attitude towards other people living with disabilities.”