Suzie was seven years old when she was attacked by a shark. This happened when she was swimming along the sea front of her home village, Talaura in North East Guadalcanal.
One can only imagine the trauma and pain she must have gone through as a child. While fighting for her life she lost a limb but was lucky enough to survive the ordeal.
Growing up in the 70’s in Solomon Islands was not easy for Suzie. Shunned and made fun of, Suzie grew up in a community that was not kind to her.
Children made fun of her disability and imitated the way she walked. School for her was no fun and she was always sad.
The only comfort and support comes from her father. He encouraged Suzie to pursue education as a priority.
“He said daughter, you have to go to school so that you can be able to read and write. He was the one always empowering me”, Suzie recalls.
Obtaining a placement in a National secondary back in the days is a proud feat for any family.
From Talaura primary school, Suzie was able to secure a position at the St. Josephs Tenaru School.
She was in Tenaru School for three years before going back to the village where she became an untrained teacher at her old school.
Now out of her childhood, life was good for Suzie as she was finally able to be her own self.
But circumstances surrounding her disability were then another setback. Standing long hours in front of a classroom full of kids was not easy for someone in her condition.
By being a teacher, one is often expected to stand long hours while in the classroom. Suzie was not able to cope and left Talaura to come to Honiara.
In Honiara she started scouting for jobs that will both suit her and her disability. She was lucky to get a job as a receptionist at the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands. But she lasted only a year at the Ministry.
With an office room that required her to walk up and down a flight of steps, Suzie was not able to cope. She left Agriculture and went on to work at the Honiara Town Council, also as a receptionist.
She was met with the same fate. She had to come to work, climbing a flight of stairs to reach her office.
With her experience as a receptionist, Suzie was able to secure a job at the Mendana Hotel.
Here it was more comfortable for her as she had access to her office without climbing a flight of stairs.
Suzie thought that her woes were over. But she was wrong. After leaving Mendana (after three years) her next choice of employment once again brought back the shame and stigma she was faced with as a child.
“The treatment they gave me there was not good. Some of the staff was not kind and I do not feel good working there”, Suzie said.
In her quest for better treatment, Suzie was able to secure a job with the RSIPF and now with Seif Ples where she currently works.
The story shared by Suzie is not uncommon especially for people with impairments.
In a workshop after the launch of an ‘access to justice study report in Solomon Islands’, participants from Persons with Disability in Solomon Islands (PWDSI) shared the same sentiments.
From stigma to accessing public infrastructure and justice systems, it is the same story from the different individuals.
With work currently on going in 'access to justice' the likes of Suzie are anticipating an inclusive approach in the way government and stakeholders carry out their work in Solomon Islands.
"Include us in decison making activities that will affect all Solomon Islanders", Suzie said.
"Abled people will not be able to feel and understand what we are going through. Only we ourselves will be able to relay our stories the way we feel and know", she stressed.
The recent report launched on the 'access to justice study in Solomon Islands" also highlights the existing justice needs of the people of Solomon Islands.
Results presented in the report will serve as a baseline for monitoring progress of reforms and service delivery in the formal justice system.
Suzie was a participant of the 'access to justice' workshop in Honiara.