Jeminah Oto’a used to work at Solomon Airlines. 2020 began with new hopes and dreams for her, when she started work as an intern receptionist at the local Airline Company.
At 20 years of age, what more can a girl like her want. She has a job, even if it's only as an intern. At least it is a starting point for someone with big dreams.
But all this was shattered when COVID-19 struck. Solomon Airlines was one of the first companies to enforce cutbacks when international borders were closed.
With the cutback, Jeminah, lost her chance to experience what it is like having a job in an office.
As the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months, anxiety and depression started to creep in.
“Life is very challenging at the moment and I don’t know where and what to do. I cannot imagine how people are really affected by this threat. It will be worse especially for someone like me with a disability”, Jeminah said.
Jeminah is a member of the Solomon Islands paralympic team. In more than one occasion she has represented the country in past competitions.
“I travelled mostly last year as far as South Korea, Australia in Gold Coast, Darwin and the Mini Pacific Games in Samoa last year. And with that I have a total of two Bronze and three Silver. I have kept them in my wardrobe,” Jeminah said.
She is known by many around the Pacific and Solomon Islands for her participation in the Paralympics.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, life came to a standstill for her.
“I usually run daily to maintain my spirit in sports and to resist the unbeatable thoughts of the day. And I normally run from Mbokona from where I lived to Rove Children’s Park,” Jeminah said.
Her feats in sports include athletics, javelin, shot-put and taekwondo.
Emotionally she expresses how she is trying to overcome the feeling of being ignored and discriminated against.
Her achievements in the sporting world became a thing of the past as she struggled to cope with life’s daily hardship during this COVID crisis.
With no-one to support her, Jeminah has to find a way to sustain herself. Her elder sister is now in the home village with her children thus Jeminah has no choice but to do something for herself.
She became a market vendor and resells fruits and vegetables bought from local farmers. This she believes will help put food on the table as well as help pay for water and electricity bills.
“I usually sell fruits every day except for Sundays. I usually get only $100 or less or even $50 SBD per day. With this amount I can afford to pay for my needs and wants”, Jeminah says.
She has a calendar where she keeps track of the days during the State of Public Health Emergency. Each time she ticks off each day, anticipating an end to the State of emergency.
“I believe that everyone like me faces the same challenge. If only someone can recognize our needs and treat us as priority. So far things are looking very bleak”, she says.
She says as a person with disability, it was always her wish to become a role model for others like herself.
“I am at the crossroad at the moment. Not knowing where to go. I feel helpless. But through the help from my friends, I am able to get through each day”, Jeminah says.
Jeminah maintains her positive outlook in life by taking time out to do physical activities. The minute she gets on the road, both in the morning and evening, she will start to feel better.
“I realized that only the same people like me plus my family are the true friends I have at this time. Without them I will not make it through each day,” she says.
She says that she misses sports, the main driver of her motivation in life. She wished sporting activities are still allowed to help people like her move forward.
The state of public health emergency started on March 25 and will cease to exist on the 25th of July, 2020.
“I cannot wait for everything to come back to normal. I already have a work plan for the month of July to December 2020. I hope everything will go as planned for me”, Jeminah says.
Jeminah completed her high school in Su’u National Secondary School from Form One to Form Four. She then went on to Bethesda Training Support Centre where she finishes school in 2018.
She is a strong advocate for people with disability and special needs.
“I feel sorry for my other friends being ignored and discriminated against. I feel that this wasn’t our fault being trapped in the COVID-19 pandemic. We are special and unique people despite our impairment”, Jeminah says.
Earlier this year the Pacific Disability Forum (PDF) says governments should make sure persons with disabilities are protected during this COVID-19 pandemic.
PDF says it is critical their exposure and vulnerability to the spread of the disease are recognized and necessary measures put in place to ensure their inclusion, effective participation, protection and safety is addressed in the health response.
PDF urges all levels of government, agencies and the private sector to work with disabled peoples’ organisations to make sure that persons with disabilities in particular women, children and young persons with disabilities are not left behind in the COVID-19 response.