Many days for Rajni Persaud begin with pain; after her birth, she received so many injections that her hips now hurt whenever rain is coming. But, as a student of the University of Guyana with a dream of one day becoming a software developer, this 18-year-old who lives her life with cerebral palsy pushes through the pain, exhaustion, and trials to overcome all of the challenges in front of her.

At just six months old, Rajni was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a disorder of movements, muscle tone, or posture that is caused by damage that occurs to the immature, developing brain, most often before birth. In Rajni’s case, the muscle in her hands and feet are not physically developed and she relies on a wheelchair to move around.

Rajni’s specific type of cerebral palsy is called spastic triplegia and it causes stiffness in the muscles of the lower part of the body.

However, the young woman, who is now a first-year student at UG, has not let her diagnosis stop her from pursuing her dream and attaining her goals.

She shared that education is a major part of her life.

Rajni, who hails from Coldingen, East Coast Demerara, attended the Enterprise Primary School where she earned a total of 507 marks at the National Grade Six Assessment, thereby securing a spot at one of the nation’s top schools, St Joseph’s High School.

While this was a proud achievement for her, she was unable to tap into it: due to the distance and the challenges with transportation costs, the young woman’s family opted for her to attend President’s College, a school closer to home. At President’s College, she wrote the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and gained eight Grade One’s and three Grade Two’s.

Rajni Persaud, along with her family, at her President’s College graduation

She shared, for example, that she initially had no plans of attending university because of her condition and the toll it would have on her family’s finances.

“I thought that was the end. It seemed impossible at that time since my parents are unable to pay my tuition fees and also the high cost attached to transportation,” she said.

The transportation costs were more than twice the amount of her tuition fees, she revealed, due to her need to travel by taxi. She explained that public transportation is not equipped to cater to persons with physical disabilities.

However, Rajni was fortunate to meet Ganesh Singh from the National Commission on Disability (NCD), who encouraged her to continue her studies at the University of Guyana. In doing so, he assisted her in obtaining a scholarship from the Government of Guyana through the Department of Public Service, Ministry of the Presidency.

She then applied to pursue a diploma in accountancy. Part of her decision was due to the fact that the School of Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation (SEBI) building was equipped with a ramp, she said. This made her feel physically comfortable since she knew she would be able to access most classrooms with ease.

She later met with academic advisors and informed them of her interest in pursuing her studies in the field of Computer Science instead. Her major concern, however, was that the Natural Sciences building, where the majority of her classes would be held, is not accessible due to an elevator being non-functional for years. She is also unable to use the computer labs located in the Centre of Information Technology (CIT).

However, she said, she is fortunate to have support from her lecturers and fellow classmates.

“I must commend the lecturers and other staff for the tremendous efforts made in order to accommodate me despite these facilities not being accessible. These efforts include my tutor conducting the necessary lab sessions downstairs,” she said.

She also shared that the other students play a vital role in ensuring that she is comfortable at UG. They are very helpful in assisting her move from one class to the next, along with her mother Usha Persaud who has been on campus with her every single day throughout her academic life.

She entirely credits her family for her success. Rajni emphasised that attending university would not have been possible without the constant support of her parents and brother, among other individuals who have been with her through thick and thin.

Meanwhile, she explained that her world outside of university also comes with its own difficulties.

For one, she said, most of the time she takes longer to complete a given task and oftentimes gets tired faster than other persons would.

Furthermore, she said, sitting for a long period of time is very painful as it can affect one’s spine over time. In fact, she has developed scoliosis as a result of spending so much time in a wheelchair.

She added that even though some people might say they understand her struggles, she strongly believes that they actually do not.

“It is never easy having to sit in a wheelchair for long hours. People may say that all I do is sit in a wheelchair every day. But my life as a physically challenged individual is not easy. I would challenge anyone to try sitting continuously for six to eight hours per day and see what happens.”

Additionally, she related that on rainy days the pain is almost unbearable; most times it happens the night before it rains, she said. She added that there are nights when she cannot sleep and there are nights when she suddenly wakes up because of the pain.

When asked how she copes with the pain, she said she sometimes ignore it. According to her, “Despite having pain in class I have to continue. I believe that if I pay attention to all the pain that I usually have, maybe I will be unable to do three-quarters of the things that I normally do or that I wish to do.”

But despite so many difficulties, what does Rajni say is at the top of her list of challenges? Accessibility.

“Accessibility is a big issue in Guyana. People build buildings that are not accessible to persons with physical disabilities. I don’t think anyone could imagine, much less understand how…it feels when I see that I can’t access certain facilities like a normal student,” the young woman expressed.

When Rajni is not studying she spends her time watching television, playing games, and having fun — just like any teenager would.

Rajni Persaud

Anyone wishing to offer any form of assistance can make contact with her via email at [email protected]


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