Doris Akonanya is a budding and talented Nollywood actress. A student of Theatre Arts at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, the 22-year-old told Eric Dumo how the loss of one of her legs has inspired her to greater heights
You lost one of your legs when you were 13, how did this happen?
The loss of one of my legs happened after a motorbike accident in 2006. That fateful day in Bayelsa, I was crossing the road with my elder sister when out of nowhere, the motorbike rammed into me and broke my leg.
Following that accident, I had to stay in the hospital for over one year. When the incident happened, I wasn’t taken to the hospital on time; I was taken to people who set bones. After about one week, the internal injuries had begun to rot and this seriously affected the leg. It made the situation more complicated. By the time I was finally taken to the hospital, it had become almost too late to salvage the situation. The doctors said they would have to amputate it to save my life.
When you were told that the leg was going to be amputated, what ran through your mind?
When the doctor first told me that the leg would be cut off, I told them to leave it so I could die like that. My parents later tricked me that they were going to call a doctor from Europe to come and remove the leg, take it there for proper treatment and bring it back to fix here. When I woke up one day and didn’t find the leg, they told me that the white doctor had come to remove it and that he was going to bring it back soon. I was quite young then and believed everything they said.
For several months, I looked forward to the leg being returned. One day after I grew tired, I asked one of the doctors at the hospital where I was receiving treatment when the white doctor was going to return my leg. It was the man that then told me the truth. He told me that my leg had been amputated and wasn’t coming back. It was like a bucket of hot coal being poured on me.
So, after finding out the truth, did you feel betrayed by your mother?
I felt really bad and stopped eating for a while in protest. It got so bad that one of my aunties whom I love so much had to be called to come and console me. Even though I listened to her, I wasn’t really happy again.
How did this situation affect your growing up?
It affected my growing up in a lot of ways. I saw myself as being different from others. In fact, I hated life because I had a dream of becoming an actress from childhood, so I thought that dream was over after the accident. I remember I would cry for several days without end following that terrible accident. The days that followed that terrible incident were very tough for me.
Have you made any attempt to get prosthesis after that incident?
Yes, I have one but I don’t like using it. I love to appear the way I am because it encourages a lot of people. I dance without my crutches; it is something I have become used to. I can stand without support for about 20 minutes at a time. Expressing myself freely makes me feel good.
Even though you are from Anambra State, you grew up in Bayelsa, what was the experience like?
Growing up in Bayelsa State was really amazing. The culture, the people and places, everything was great. But then growing up with a disability wasn’t easy because at every point, I felt different from the others.
The situation affected me so bad to the extent that I didn’t take life seriously anymore because I felt I was useless to my family and to the world. Even though I was quite young at the time, I just wanted to end it all as a result of the way I felt within me.
In fact, I never took my education seriously because I thought it was a waste of time. I felt it was of no use since I am physically challenged.
I felt useless but my parents didn’t see me that way, especially my mother. They encouraged and supported me in all ways possible.
My mother has always been very supportive. She will always tell me to go to God in prayers, that with Him, I can achieve all my dreams. She taught me how to fight for what I believed in and not to give up on my dreams. That has helped me a lot in my journey through life especially in my acting career. As a person, impossibility is not in my dictionary.
I started accepting and appreciating God for my life when I saw Nicholas James Vujicic, the motivational speaker without legs and arms. His videos inspired me not to give up on myself. After seeing most of his videos and how happy he is, I felt like a new and special being. That was when I started fighting for what I wanted in life.
As an undergraduate of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, what are some of the major barriers you have been faced with as a result of your disability?
The challenges have been numerous and quite tough. When I got admission to study Theatre Arts at the university, so many people discouraged me from studying the course. Most of my course mates were like “what is she doing in this department”? “Is it that she doesn’t know what this course is all about”? “Can she dance or act with one leg”?
I felt bad but I encouraged myself because I knew what I wanted and was ready to fight for it. I learnt how to dance on my own in my room. Today, I can act and dance with or without any form of support.
How did you get into Nollywood and what has the experience been like considering your situation?
I got into the industry three years ago through Prince Owelle Ugorji, an actor and movie producer. I met him on Facebook and told him about my passion for acting and dancing. He was touched by my story and promised to help me achieve my dreams.
Later, he got across to me and sent me a script. I was so happy that day; I went through it and was eventually given the lead role in the movie titled “Susanna”. That project brought us closer and he has since taken me like a sister. He didn’t ask for money or sex from me unlike one producer whose name I won’t mention. But if he reads this interview, he will know he is the one I am referring to.
This so-called producer promised to make me a star like he claimed to have made others but that before he could do so, I had to be his pet for some years. What he meant was that I had to be sleeping with him till I become a household name. This man I am talking about is old enough to be my father. When he told me that, I felt very bad. I turned down his offer and have since forged ahead strongly through God’s mercies.
People living with disabilities face a lot of stigmatisation, what has the experience been for you in this regard?
People always ask why I chose ‘Dorisstillsmiling’ as my Instagram handle. I just tell them that I did so because I just can’t stop smiling and being happy. I love myself so much despite losing one of my legs and I believe that this is part of God’s plan for me.
As a matter of fact, God has been using me to encourage so many people not to give up, no matter what their conditions are. Though I might not be where I wish to be yet, I thank God for how far He has brought me. I believe I am heading somewhere, the world is going to celebrate me soon.
So, what has the experience been with the guys?
A lot of them come after me just to take advantage of me because they feel that they are doing me a favour by asking me out. But I put such people in their place because I know what I want for myself.
How can the federal and state governments improve the living condition of people living with disabilities in Nigeria?
As a society, I don’t think we are doing enough to help persons living with disabilities. I hate that word ‘disabled’ because we are not disabled. We are just differently abled, we have abilities as well.
The society sees us like we are destined to be beggars but this is wrong. We are talented in so many ways even though most times, people don’t want to give us the chance to display such gifts. Many of us are talented and just waiting to be discovered.
Many people who find themselves in a similar shoe like you could have contemplated suicide; for such persons, what words do you have for them?
I just want to let individuals in this category to know that they are so special and made in the image and likeness of God. We are special people; we do things differently, so they must never be depressed or think of taking their own lives.
People like this must continue to fight for what they want in life. They must love themselves before others can love them. I know it’s not easy but such persons must not forget that good things come to only those that don’t give up.
If you look back at your journey, what lessons would you say losing one of your legs has taught you?
My situation has taught me a lot of lessons in life. I have learnt how to fight for what I want, how to love myself more, how to help myself before people can even help me. Above all, losing one of my legs has taught me that God truly loves me.
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