Sanukanchi, 14, flips through the pages of her sketchbook and shyly shows the colorful flowers she has been drawing. She has pages and pages of art work—drawing has been her sole pastime for years. Born in rural Nepal with a deformed right foot and missing her left leg, Sanukanchi spent much of her life locked inside her home, crawling on her hands and knees. Mocked and shunned by her community, Sanukanchi could not imagine that one day, she might be more than a pariah.
Sanukanchi, or Sanu, was raised in a small village in the countryside of Nepal by poor, illiterate parents. She was born with club foot, but her condition was never treated and for years she walked on the side of her foot.
Things got worse when she was nine years old. “I was playing outside one day and cut my healthy left leg,” said Sanu. “My mother, who was widowed with three children, didn’t have the money to take me to a doctor so the wound became infected. The infection festered and so eventually I went to the doctor. He said my leg needed to be cut off to save my life. I remember that day as if it were yesterday. I was so incredibly sad.”
Sanu’s life changed drastically. Because of her deformed right foot, she couldn’t hop on one leg, so it was impossible to walk with crutches. Sanu had to drop out of school and stay home. “I could only crawl,” she remembers. “I made drawings to pass the time. In the beginning I felt miserable because I couldn’t leave the house. After a while, I didn’t want to go outside anymore. People made fun of me and the other children bullied me.”
Then in 2013, a Handicap International disability outreach worker discovered her. Present in Nepal for 15 years, Handicap International has provided more than 46,000 Nepalese people with disabilities with physical therapy, prostheses, assistive devices like wheelchairs, and other rehabilitation services.
The worker who found Sanu remembers being shocked by the girl’s condition: “I couldn’t believe what I saw. Sanu was on the floor, too afraid to even look at me.”
She brought Sanu to Kathmandu for surgery so she could receive a prosthesis for her left leg. She was also given an orthosis to help her walk with her right leg.
Today, after years of struggle, Sanu is finally able to stand up straight and walk. She goes to school and is proud of it, even though her classmates are much younger than she is. She still needs physical therapy on a regular basis, and so remains in Kathmandu. She lives with 15 other girls with disabilities in a home managed by the local NGO Voice of Creative Disabled Nepal. “I’m comfortable here because no one makes fun of me,” said Sanu. “Of course I miss my mom, but we both know I need the rehabilitation sessions. My mother is so proud of me.”
Three months ago, Sanu went to her village to visit her family. “Everyone was stunned to see me walking,” said Sanu. “They couldn’t believe their eyes. That moment gave me the boost I needed—I realized that I could achieve something in life and I suddenly felt very strong.”
Since then, Sanu has been working harder than ever at her rehabilitation exercises. Her next goal: To walk long distances without crutches. Meanwhile, she’s still drawing. On the final page of her sketchbook, there’s a portrait of herself and her best friend—a girl who lives with her and uses a wheelchair. The drawing shows them both walking and posing like movie stars. “This is my dream,” she says. “Sometimes I feel very sad about what happened to me. But I know how far I’ve come. And when I look in the mirror, I’m very proud of myself.”