Cape Town – Mr South Africa Habib Noorbhai addressed a group of young teenage girls with disabilities and said “having a disability should not make you feel inferior, it makes you unique”.
Noorbhai addressed the young girls during the 3rd annual Celebration and Empowerment Workshop held by the Women’s Achievement Network for Disability (WAND) at Artscape on Friday during the Artscape Woman and Humanity Arts Festival.
Sixty girls from Jan Kriel School, Paarl School, Astra School and Tembaletu School for Learners with Special Needs attended the workshop.
WAND co-founders Karen Smit and Artscape CEO Marlene le Roux welcomed the schoolgirls, telling them that WAND existed to show girls with disabilities that they are capable of living successful, full lives, despite the barriers they encounter in their lives.
Noorbhai told the crowd that persons with disabilities have extraordinary abilities as each person “brings something extra” to this world. He encouraged the high school learners to dream big. “Don’t stay in the plateau, go beyond, work smart and chase your dreams”.
Noorbhai briefly shared with the girls how he is the shortest, skinniest Mr South Africa in the competition’s history, telling them that achieving a dream is not impossible and they need to be bold and believe in their dreams.
Keynote speaker writer and director Hennie van Greunen shared his story of growing up with a sibling who has a disability and how the experience heightened his empathetic capabilities and developed his listening skills.
Speaking to the girls, van Greunen said that even though they may appear weak or lacking to someone who doesn’t understand them, what is on the inside of them must be stronger than what is visible on the outside because their voices must be heard. “Be infinitely bigger on the inside than on the outside and make your inside better than the outside” he emphasised.
“We live in a country where people still need to be educated about disability,” he said.
He highlighted the importance of knowing what your skills and strengths are for "we all have one skill that we do better than other people".
Those skills and strengths he told the girls, are the keys for shaping their future for themselves and not having their lives shaped by people who don’t understand them, or what they want.
"Your story is shaped by you, not by society."
Radio presenters and DJs Tracey Lange and Bonita Blanckenberg shared how they overcame their challenges as women in the workplace.
Blackenberg who has been blind from birth told the girls that she didn’t let her blindness stop her from pursuing a career in radio.
“You need to stand your ground. It might not work out the first time, or the second time, but never stop believing. Don’t ever let go of your passion, even if your circumstances are not what you want them to be, don't give up on your passion."
Lange shared how one decision to follow her gut about leaving a company she once worked for due to harassment led her to a fulfilling career in radio. She said the decisions you make impact your future.
Le Roux and Smit shared their stories and their triumphs of overcoming their disabilities. Smit has rheumatoid arthritis and le Roux was affected by polio.
“It is very important for you to make yourself heard,” said Smit.
Le Roux agreed: “We met when we were at the hospital, and we were seen as medical objects. No one asked us what we wanted."
Becoming successful women in the workplace, they each told the girls, takes hard work and doesn’t happen overnight.
“We never knew we would have to prove ourselves for the rest of our lives.”
Smit said it was important to “turn something into an opportunity” and make it work.
"You need to know your rights to enable you to participate fully in the workplace and at home, and always push the boundaries.”
A few girls shared what their dreams were, saying they wanted to become beauticians, lawyers, pharmacists, fashion designers, actresses, motivational speakers and makeup artists.
“Today you have shared your dreams. Now ask yourselves: ‘What little steps do I need to do to bring this dream true?’," said le Roux.
“Don't wait for someone else to fulfil your dream.”