Denman Gutter Masthead
hands-heart-feature

Letters from our sisters: living with a disability in Canberra

Alison Senti and Nip Wijewickrema

An introduction from Alison

You might have heard about my sister Lauren before–she, and others living with childhood heart issues were my inspiration for fundraising ahead of running the 2012 New York Marathon [Postscript: Hurricane Katrina blew that chance away but we still raised thousands of dollars for HeartKids NSW!].

At HerCanberra we have a diverse range of contributors and two of us have very special sisters: I have my little sister Lauren, 34 (or Loz, if you know her!) and Nip Wijewickrema has her adorable sister Gayana, 15 who’s the inspiration behind GG’s Flowers, a local business providing meaningful employment opportunities for Gayana and other Canberrans with disabilities.

Both of these lovely young women have Down Syndrome, a chromosomal abnormality that occurs at conception and can result in intellectual and physical delays. It occurs more frequently than any other intellectual disability in approximately one in 800 births in Australia.

We invited Lauren and Gayana to be special guest HC contributors and share with us what life is like for a Canberran with a disability, in their own words. It’s little surprise their dreams are the same as all of us: to be loved and have a meaningful life.

Lauren’s story

Loz_sing

 

Lauren – tell us a bit about yourself! Your likes and dislikes, do you work, what are your hobbies?

My name is Lauren Murray and my hobbies are movies, shopping, going out with friends – I have lots of likes.

When did you realise that you were a bit different to most people? What’s the hardest thing about having a disability and how do you deal with that?

It is hard but we [are] like normal people and Downs Syndrome is like gift and we need special needs in our lives. My happiness will be my family, I am proud of that, my life is amazing.

What have you liked best about your life so far? What’s your happiest or proudest moment?

I have supportive family and friends that’s what matters to me.

If you could have three wishes, what would they be?

My goals are [to] write [a] book [and] run a shop.

What advice would you give to Gayana and other young people with disabilities in Canberra? 

My advice for Gayana is [to] follow her heart everywhere it takes [her]. [Her dreams] will come true only one way is being herself and it will come true. God bring her here [and] makes her. [Make] the most of it and enjoy it.

Gayana’s story (as told to Nip!)

gayana

Gayana – tell us a bit about yourself! Your likes and dislikes, do you work, what are your hobbies?

My name is Gayana Wijewickrema and I’m a 16 year old girl with Down syndrome (or beautiful syndrome, as my big sister, Nip calls it). I’m currently in year 10 at Lyneham High School and work at GG’s Flowers – Canberra’s socially sustainable florist that employs people with special needs. I deliver flowers all around Canberra – and I honestly think it’s the best job in the world. I get to smile and give people hugs and people are so happy to see me.

My hobbies include dancing, going out for dinner (actually, any meal!), going to the gym, delivering flowers, eating frozen yoghurt and spending time with my family.

When did you realise that you were a bit different to most people? What’s the hardest thing about having a disability and how do you deal with that?

When someone asks me who I am, my family has taught me to always say, “I’m a special girl” – and I now see that I’m a very special girl.

Since my family started GG’s Flowers, I’ve been so lucky to meet so many different people that accept me for who I am. I think the hardest thing has been that every once in a while, I come across someone that doesn’t understand my disability and doesn’t understand that patience, kindness and a smile will never kill them and will mean the world to me.

What have you liked best about your life so far? What’s your happiest or proudest moment?

My family are my life. I’ve been so lucky to have supportive sisters and incredible parents.

My proudest moment was winning a commendation award at the Chief Minister’s Inclusion Awards for 2014 as an emerging young leader as a person with a disability. I even got up on stage and did a quick speech!

If you could have three wishes, what would they be?

  1. All my friends with special needs are able to find fulfilling employment opportunities like I have.
  2. My family and I will be able to continue to be an inspiration for people with special needs.
  3. A lifetime membership for unlimited yoghurtland

What advice would you give to other young people with disabilities in Canberra?

My advice for people with disabilities in Canberra would be to take every opportunity as it comes. My family and teachers have pushed me out of my comfort zone – and for that, I’m truly grateful. I know I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for my family’s commitment to providing me with the best life possible.

I think seizing opportunities despite our disability is the only way to enjoy a fulfilling life.

A footnote from Nip

Sometimes, there are days I wonder how I can physically love another human being as much as I love Gayana. The innocent smile, pure happiness and faultless cuddles she provides, continues to enrich my life by the day.

However, this love is sometimes fogged by the actions of the public – and I for one sometimes feel like a blade has stabbed me in the chest.

Those out there that have a sibling, child or friends with a special need will understand. For those of you that don’t – come with me for a day and I’ll show you exactly how incredible life can be with a beautiful little girl with Down syndrome.

I suppose my main message for those out there who encounter a person with Down syndrome or any other disability is to be kind. The love, affection and kindness a person with a disability can bring to your life will be indescribable. However, sadly – there are far too many times where I see people being rude, impatient or flat out refusing to tolerate people with disabilities and it truly breaks my heart.

Alison and myself, fiercely protective and supportive sisters of special people need your help in our quest to making our community an inclusive one.

It’s important to support people with special needs to enable them to achieve their full potential. Let’s work together – that’s the best way!

Image of two sisters making a heart with their hands from www.shutterstock.com

user

Alison Senti

Alison Senti is a child-rearing, part-time working, globe-travelling, gourmet-gutsing, marathon-running, shoe 'collecting' second generation Canberran who likes to take life by the scruff of the neck and give it a good shake. Most of her stories on Her Canberra are selfishly of interest to her personally! More about the Author

user

Nip Wijewickrema

Nip Wijewickrema is a journalism graduate from the University of Canberra who currently works in Communications. When she's not working, she's wearing one of her many onesies, eating delicious food or delivering flowers with her beautiful sister, Gayana who has Down Syndrome. The more flowers GG's Flowers sell, the more people with disabilities they can hire. More about the Author

MEJ Leaderboard