But for 22-year-old Fatimah Abdulkarim, she is as normal as every other human being and she does not feel any different. She was born without lower limbs, but to her, every other thing is in place as she can eat, chat and partake in many things that other people do. Born in a small locality of Bauchi State called Miri, Fatimah has grown to be the breadwinner of her family as she is the only one who engages in an activity that would generate income – begging.
Backed by her 49-year-old father, Abdulkarim Umar, who has been carrying her around since she was 10 years old, the search for greener pastures has taken them beyond Plateau State as they have been to major cities like Kano, Bauchi, Kaduna, Gombe as well as Abuja to scrape for a living.
The father told Weekly Trust that “12 years ago, I decided to wander around major junctions with her at the tender age of ten to augment for the little income that comes our way.” With no vocational skills, Fatimah believes that begging is one of the most lucrative means of earning a livelihood for the physically-challenged. Asked what attracts people to extend their hands of assistance to her, she said, “I believe it is because of my physical challenge.”
But she has a pair of hands which she uses to carry light materials like paper and do things like counting money. She was quick to add, “Unlike other beggars, we don’t say anything before we attract the attention of motorists at traffic hold-ups or junctions.”
The take-home pay, according to Fatimah, ranges from N3,000 on a good day to N2,000 or N1,000 on a bad day. Her father added, “But on Saturdays and Sundays, we don’t go out. Those are the days that we rest”.
Abdulkarim also told Weekly Trust that their entire earnings end up solving family problems, saying that whatever they earn goes into family upkeep, with no room for savings. He said they have never breathed the air of a banking hall.
Fatimah’s means of livelihood no doubt involves risks as her father has to zigzag between cars before he can attract the attention of motorists. In fact, while these reporters were about to interview her, a mild collision occurred between two cars that were a few meters away from where Fatimah and her father were standing. Asked how they cope with such dangers, Abdulkarim explains, “What we usually do is to wait until all the cars are standing still when they are stopped by a traffic warden, and that is when we move in-between them from one car to another,” he said.
He added, “And as soon as we realise that the cars are about to start moving, we would then move out to avoid any danger”.
Going down memory lane, Abdulkarim told our correspondents that Fatimah was born with her physical disability, adding that she is the only child among his children who was born with such disability.
“We’ve never attempted to seek for medical help, even from when she was born; we just viewed and still view it as an act of Allah,” he added.
Weekly Trust discovered that Fatimah is happily married as a third wife to her husband and has an eight-month-old daughter named Zainab (with the same disability), who is now under the custody of her grandmother.
Fatimah who said she has never set her eyes on the four walls of a classroom opined that she doesn’t like school. Could it be because of her physical challenge, our reporters asked. “No, I just don’t like going to school,” she reiterated.
Even though she doesn’t have a choice on what her daughter should be when she grows up, Fatimah said she’d prefer her to attend school instead of roaming the streets seeking for alms. Most people are usually surprised when they hear that Fatimah is not only a married woman, but a mother. What usually follows that consternation is the question of how she was able to cope during her pregnancy days. Fatimah, clad in her light pink hijab, replied, “I felt like every other woman that is pregnant”.
Her father added, “But when she came to deliver, they had to operate on her at the hospital”.
Although Fatimah admitted that she eats whatever comes her way, she said rice with stew is her favourite meal.
With her size, do tailors measure her before sewing her clothes? “Yes, they do measure me before they sew my clothes,” she said.
On whether they have ever enjoyed any help from the state government, Malam Abdulkarim said, “We don’t even know the channels through which we can seek for help from the government and we would really appreciate it if we can have such help,” he said.