A FIGHTER – AMY CAMILLERI ZAHRA

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Amy Camilleri Zahra has been an amputee for a decade. Her struggles have proved her to be a fighting force that supports those who, like her, have gone through the similar experience of losing a body part.

Who is Amy Camilleri Zahra in the eyes of Amy Camilleri Zahra?

Tough question! One thing I don’t like doing is describing myself, but I would say Amy is pensive, sensitive, vociferous and slightly impatient. I also consider myself to be determined. My husband often teases me that I’m a bit of a nerd too, and I tend to agree with him.

Who are Amputees4Amputees and what are the team’s aims?

Amputees4Amputees is an NGO run by amputees. I am one of the co-founders and its current president. The main aim of the NGO is to offer support to other people who have gone through or are going to go through an amputation. The other aims of A4A are to provide information about services and advocacy.

Can you tell us more about your experience, and what can people learn from your approach?

Every individual reacts to trauma differently, depending on the stage they are in life as well as other factors. However, an amputation can be considered to be a physical, psychological and emotional trauma at whatever age or stage you experience it. At the time of my amputation, I was an energetic 21-year old student reading for a degree in Mechanical Engineering. My amputation was a result of meningitis. I lost both my legs from below the knee, as well as parts of my fingers due to blood poisoning. I later also developed kidney failure due to the meningitis and have for the past 7 years been living with a kidney transplant from my father.

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At the time of the amputation, my concerns were about whether I’d be able to continue with the life I knew – my course at university, going out with friends, travelling and having a career. However, these worries were secondary to a bigger concern, that is, whether I was actually going to survive meningitis or not. As soon as I was admitted to hospital, I was sedated and my parents were told that the chances of me making it alive were very slim to none. My parents were in fact advised to go and plan my funeral.

Although my family and I experienced very difficult times, including the excruciating physical and psychological pain, once I emerged from ITU, I adopted a pragmatic and carry-on approach. My main aim was to get out of hospital alive and to start with my rehabilitation so that I could get on with my life. The times where I was very close to giving up were numerous, especially when faced with the uphill struggle of learning how to walk, eat, drink, write and drive again – all of which I used to take very much for granted. I surely wouldn’t have had a positive outcome without the constant support of my parents, my brother, my then-boyfriend who’s now my husband, my extended family and several friends. I’m lucky enough to have had and still have a good support network who rallied me on. Not for once did they lose their hope that I would make it.

Who inspires you?

My parents, particularly my late father, who was my kidney donor and who will always be my hero, my brother and my husband. They’re my greatest sources of inspiration. I’m also greatly inspired by the people I meet and work with on a daily basis. Other sources are people who I’ve had the pleasure to meet through a number of networks both locally and abroad – people who are game changers and people who’ve dedicated their lives to fighting for equality.

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What improvements would you like to see for individuals with disability?

The disability sector in Malta has improved drastically in the past 30 years, both in terms of the general attitude by society as well as in terms of services and rights for persons with disability. However, there’s still a lot more to be done in relation to disability equality and anti-discrimination.

Accessibility, both physically and in terms of goods and services for all people with disability remains high on the list. Accessibility is considered to be a cross-cutting issue, and a lack of it leads to other issues of inequality and discrimination, such as the lack of participation in public dialogues by disabled people, lack of disabled people in gainful employment, lack of participation in leisure and cultural activities by disabled people both as consumers and as producers, and a lack of access to information.

In addition, I’d like to see Malta adopt a more comprehensive rights-based approach to disability. Although this approach has already been reflected in the enactment of the Equal Opportunities Act by Parliament in 2000 and by the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability in 2012, there’s still a lot of work to be done in the enforcement and implementation of these two important pieces of legislation.

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You’re also an executive committee member on the National Council of Women. How has this assisted your work as an advocate?

Being an executive committee member on NCW has enabled me to put forward and discuss the needs of all women, as well as the particular needs of disabled women. Very often, disabled women are the recipients of what is known as multiple discrimination, that is, discrimination because they’re disabled and discrimination because they’re women. NCW has provided me with the opportunity to discuss pertinent issues to women both on a national and international level.