We all bear difficulties in life; where some are able to hide our challenges through smiles and facades of normality, others are given abnormal adversities and wear their scars visibly. Such is the case with Haben Girma, who was born with impaired hearing and vision that only deteriorated as she grew older. In time, Haben became completely blind and deaf; deafblind as she prefers the term to embrace her “disability” as a cultural identity. Yet, in spite of the impediments she inherited, Haben refused to be limited by her circumstances.

Born to an Eritrean mother who was a refugee and an Ethiopian father, in 2013 Haben became the first deafblind person to graduate from Harvard University Law School. Instead of bemoaning her condition, she made it a point to keep striving for excellence and accomplish truly amazing feats. In a time where apathy and seeing the glass half-empty have become altogether too normal, Haben insists on pursuing possibilities. Sometimes the ones who can hear the blessings of life the loudest and see the abundance offered by this world with the most clarity are those who go without the faculty to do so.

Haben surfs, dances salsa regularly and has climbed glaciers, these are exploits few among us go after let alone someone who is deafblind. This is why Haben is a source of hope not only for people with disabilities but for humanity as a whole. It is easy to wallow in pity and ask why when confronted by hardship and let one’s heart be infected by ennui; Haben won’t have any of that, she chases her dreams and motivates others to do the same irrespective of their means or their station.

It is one thing to excel as Haben continues to do, it takes an extraordinary person to be dedicated to a cause greater than self. This is exactly what Haben has chosen to do; instead of chasing fame and fortunes for the sake of ego, she has become an ambassador of the deafblind community. She travels the world to highlight the challenges of having impaired hearing and vision while reaching out to deafblind people globally to let them know that they too can think audaciously and achieve beyond what society expects of them.

As if the challenges of disabilities are not hard enough, the feeling of loneliness and the fear of being judged “abnormal” is an equally hard cross to bear. This is why Haben’s fearless dedication on behalf of the deafblind community is so noteworthy, she is giving hope to countless people who have to navigate life in a world that is not always attune to their experiences. In the process, she is dispelling assumptions within the Ethiopian community and beyond about what it means to be deafblind.

Connecting with people and motivating them to push the envelope when it comes to pursuing their passions, this is the essence of Haben. She recently published a book titled “Haben” that details her life experiences and her determination to shift perception of having a disability. A writer, a thinker, a dreamer who is determined to make a difference and leave her mark on this world.

As evidenced by her tireless efforts and her continued distinction, @HabenGirma transcends her disabilities and proves that her capacities to affect change and help others are truly limitless.   Click To Tweet

“True happiness is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” ~ Helen Keller

Once a week, we spotlight Ethiopians at home and abroad who are driven to make a difference for the communities where they live and to give back to Ethiopia. At the end of this year, we will have an event where we recognize a group of finalists in person and award them for the hard work they are doing. If you have other Ethiopians, young or elders, who are making a difference for our people and our homeland, email us at info@ethiopians4cm.og and include their picture, a short bio and why you think that person should be spotlighted.