Note from BW of Brazil: What a great example of self-determination, inspiration and a discipline that says “no excuses”. Many of the women featured on this blog already have two to three social disadvantages that make their ascension more difficult than others. In general, these disadvantages include being female, black and poor. Well, the subject of today’s post comes with these three disadvantages and still one more: she’s blind. But the way that Nathalia Santos maintains her focus and continues to thrive for success, it seems that none of these socially stigmatized categories will stop her from succeeding in life. I knew that the time would eventually come to feature a story on Nathalia since I first learned of her story back in April of 2014 through a story featured in Trip magazine. In that article, she was actually presented as Nathalia Rodrigues.
I had first intended to include that report here at BW of Brazil but, as with other stories, the report got put on the backburner. But almost as a sign of things to come, she was first featured here in a post about British supermodel Naomi Campbell who was featured on three Vogue Brasil magazine covers in a celebration of the beauty of negras brasileiras, highlighting 11 prominent black Brazilian women. Then last month, she was featured in a post entitled “‘Protagonism is not ceded, it is conquered’: In panel, various successful Afro-Brazilian women discuss challenges black women face in Brazilian society” which featured her as well as other black Brazilian women who’ve made a mark on society such as journalist Flavia Oliveira, singer Iza, actress Tais Araújo, and Brazil’s first black female judge, Luislinda Valois. So finally, today, I present a post focusing solely on the wonderful story of Nathalia and Nathalia alone!
“Becoming blind at age 15 transformed me for the better,” says student in report. Rio native Nathalia Santos, 24, has already faced depression and prejudice: “A woman, black and blind in Brazil, but I don’t feel entitled to deny the characteristics that make me who I am”
By Flávia Bezerra
“I could begin this testimony by talking about the difficulties – which are not few – of being a woman, black and blind in Brazil, but I don’t feel entitled to deny all the characteristics that make me who I am. Going blind at 15 transformed me for the better: I became strong, courageous and optimistic. The mark of this change came in 2004 when I was diagnosed at 12 with retinitis pigmentosa, a dystrophy that kills all the cells in the retina. I remember correctly: I was with my mother at the Hospital of the Fire Department of Rio de Janeiro, where my father works, when the doctor advised me to learn braille since I would lose my sight within months.
While my mother was deeply depressed by the news, I was relieved. Anyway, I had the diagnosis of the mysterious disease that has affected me since childhood. Still, in the consultation, my only reaction was to think of all the books and places I would like to read and know before the world darkened. And that’s exactly what I did: in three years, I read more than 100 books and decorated all the streets of Rio, where, today, I live with complete independence.
THE START OF EVERYTHING
Let’s go back to 1992, the year I was born. At that time, I lived with my parents and my older brother in Cidade Alta, a community in the north of Rio. At 6 months, my mother realized that I only responded to visual stimuli when they were accompanied by noise. She then took me to the hospital and was labeled a crazy, coitadinha (poor thing). That’s because I had – and to this day I still have – quite lively eyes. Physically, one can hardly tell that I’m blind. Not to mention that there were never any cases in the family and, according to the history of the maternity where I was born, everything seemed normal, although no examination had been done.
The truth is that I was born blind, but my vision was miraculously opening itself. Within a little over a year, I had been diagnosed with myopia and astigmatism, and I started wearing glasses – which didn’t help me! The memories I have of early childhood, around the age of three, are of a distorted classroom full of figures. Oh, and I could hardly see colors either: everything was always preto ou branco (black or white).
At 6, they told me that I had subnormal vision, a disease that drastically decreases the peripheral vision of the eyes. At the time, besides figures, I began to see as if looking through a tube. This way was leaving me with 20% of my vision!
“Not seeing, but not being blind, it bothered me. When I lost 100% of my vision, I felt relief and not revolt”
When my father became a firefighter and the family’s financial situation improved, I got more effective treatment. Just in the hospital of the quarters, I did more than 50 exams before having been diagnosed with such retinosis. I took advantage of the time with little vision to finish elementary school, study braille, read all the books I wanted and, most importantly, get a feel for the city, already preparing for the independence that I have today. The total darkness came at 15.
Even more curious than the disease is the fact that I am approached by several people who don’t believe in the possibility of someone not feeling fear or anger because of being blind; and I swear: I don’t feel it! Not seeing, but not being blind, it was a kind of term that bothered me so much that when I lost 100% of my vision, I felt relieved.
Do you want to know what really bothers me? Not believing in my ability. Now people want to deprive me of doing things or want to do them for me. And that scares me … My biggest dream, for example, is being a mother. And I know I’ll be great! But it anguishes me knowing that people close to me may not consider this …
ADOLESCENCE IN THE DARK
Despite the blindness, I lived a supernormal adolescence and I didn’t stop doing anything. I went to the balada (dances), I slept in the house of friends, I traveled, studied, I took numerous scoldings from my mother and I dated. My first date happened at 16, already blind. As he was my neighbor, everything went very fast: we met, fell in love and rolled with it. But it lasted only six months. Our biggest snag was his grandmother. She had always been against the relationship and meant, in a veiled prejudice, that I was a retard in his life.
What I did later was to dive into the books! I went to high school at Faetec, Rio’s technical school, and as soon as I arrived I introduced myself to all the rooms and showed that I would need help. Fortunately, the mobilization was immediate! In a short time, the school already had the Inclusion Room, a place where the demands of the disabled students were easily solved. These years also served my instincts to surface. Today, I hear very well, my touch is incredibly sharp and my perception of life is almost paranormal! I’ll explain: when a person talks to me, I know when he is turning his eyes. How do I know? Because it is not necessary to see to receive the signals that the body produces. I hear from the breathing in the way they project speech.
I only didn’t leave school with the diploma in management technique, because prejudice didn’t allow it. I swear to you that I sought internships in all the companies in Rio, but the deficiency was always put above the curriculum. In fact, few people know, but it is very easy for a blind person to adapt to the work environment. Do you know what we need? Two free computer programs: a screen reader and an adaptation of the (Microsoft) Office program. However, hearing “we don’t hire people like you” has often done me a lot of harm. I had an onset of depression at age 18 and, for the first time, I doubted my ability.
Until, in February 2012, I went on a recording of (the Globo TV variety show) Esquenta! and everything changed. In one of the programs, Regina Casé asked the audience who could read braille and I raised my hand. She was not only thrilled with my story (and surprised by my lively eye) as she gave me the greatest opportunity of my life: working in her production. I started the following week and only left when the program ended.
The experience was so incredible that it motivated me to study journalism. I passed the vestibular (college entrance exam) with excellence, I won a scholarship and I started college in January 2013. The sad thing is that it was precisely then that I experienced the worst moment of my life: a hit and run kidnapping. I was approached at the exit of the elevator by five people. They took me to a corner, hid my cane and threatened me, saying that they would make my life hell. I’m not going to lie: it upset me. So much so that I only told my family two weeks later. I went to the school board, denounced (the incident) and requested the images of the security cameras. But they didn’t register the incident! What remained was the words of an aluna negra (black student) and bolsista (scholarship recipient) facing a renowned teaching institution. Upset, I transferred to another college.
“Being happy, even with all the difficulties, is a choice”
HAPPINESS IS A CHOICE
The reality is that when I graduate this year, I will be the first in the family to have a diploma universitário (college degree) – and that victory is greater than any illness or prejudice. I love life and everything that is part of it! Maybe that’s why, for me, seeing is not so fundamental. I fix my hair, I do my own makeup, I ride my bike, I go to the movies…
I recently did a YouTube channel, (called) Como Assim Cega? (What do you mean blind?) In it, I answer doubts of young blind people like me and the people who live with them. Helping them accomplishes me. Obviously, I still have many dreams (working as a journalist is one of them), but I know there is no magic recipe for happiness. Being happy, even with difficulties, is a choice.
BEAUTY: MISS EMANUELLE; FASHION: MARINA BRUM AND ALINE DIAS. THANKS: GRAN MELIÁ NACIONAL HOTEL (RJ).
Source: Revista Glamour