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From devastating spinal injury to supporting others

March 8 2016


What impact does it have on a Nepalese woman’s life when she sustains a spinal injury? This International Women’s Day we share the remarkable stories of two women who have faced huge physical, psychological and social challenge due to spinal injury. Both have received support from the Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre in Nepal – with which Livability partners – and have gone on to work at the project.

Sonika Dhakal’s story

Sonika was playing with her friends on a makeshift swing in her village, when it broke, throwing her to the ground. Her parents rushed her to the local hospital but due to the nature of her spinal injuries she needed to be transferred to the hospital in Janakpur. After several months recovering, she arrived at SIRC where she started a programme of rehabilitation.

I felt it would have been better if I were dead

“At the start of my rehabilitation therapy, I was very frustrated and felt it would have been better if I were dead. I was reluctant even to do the prescribed exercise routine. However, observing the other wheelchair users around me, I started feeling that life could go on. I was offered counselling sessions and after 18 months, when I was discharged, I was determined to make something of my life.”

Starting a new life as a Peer Counsellor with SIRC

“Once I was back at home, I couldn’t do much around the house as it wasn’t yet wheelchair accessible, so I spent most of my time listening to the radio and reading books. But four months later, I received a letter from SIRC offering me the position of Peer Counsellor.” Sonika jumped at the chance to work for SIRC. “To start with, I was offered basic training. The counsellor there, Suresh Sir, was an enormous support to me. The following year, I was had more extensive training by trained counsellors from India.”

In 2006, Tomasz Tasiemski visited SIRC from his native Poland to host a seven-day training camp with special emphasis on sports for wheelchair users. Sonika says, “The programme was so inspiring, we decided to start up the Nepal Spinal Injury Sports Association. After three years, we had enough members to start a wheelchair basketball team. I also took swimming lessons and started teaching swimming to other wheelchair users.”

“As wheelchair sports have gained recognition, I started playing in national wheelchair basketball competitions. I also swam in the 2010 Asian Para-Olympics and in the 2015 Asian Games in Korea.”

Sonika still works with spinal injury patients, assisting their integration into society by encouraging them to be physically, mentally and emotionally independent. Sonika says, “Telling my story has always been a great way to connect with them. I want patients to know that nothing is ever impossible as long as you stay positive and learn to have fun.”

“People are still unaware of all the great things that the spinally injured can achieve. We need to show the world all that we can do, despite our disabilities.”

Lali Sherpa’s story:

Lali comes from a small rural community in Nepal. With five mouths to feed, including her in-laws, husband and two-year-old daughter, money was tight and Lali would regularly travel to Khasa, near the Chinese border, to buy goods to sell at shops in Kathmandu.


One day, her truck drove off the road and overturned. Lali suffered a spinal injury and was taken to the local hospital, where she needed surgery. After a few months, she came to live at SIRC for rehabilitation. To reskill her following her injury, Lali was taught to sew and make jewellery.

Spinal injury creates challenges and difficulties in family life

“After rehabilitation, I returned home to Sindhupalchowk. I constantly felt a burden in my husband’s house. After a while, my husband and I separated and I moved out. It was decided that our daughter would remain living with him and his family.” With no immediate support network, Lali decided to move away and start afresh in Kathmandu.

Starting a new life as a Vocational Trainer with SIRC

“In Kathmandu, I came across other people with spinal cord injuries who worked at SIRC. Hearing them talk about their life at SIRC where they enjoyed swimming and other wheelchair sports, I felt a real urge to join them.” Although Lali had set herself up as a tailor in Kathmandu, she decided to contact SIRC and ask if there were any job vacancies. She was in luck. “The moment I received a job offer from the Centre was probably the happiest day of my life,” she says.

Lali has been been working as a Vocational Trainer with SIRC ever since. She says, “Light has finally managed to shine through the dark clouds that previously covered my life. I feel like I am actually doing something with my life now and this gives me immense joy!”

Lali’s joy is that her daughter has been able to join her in Kathmandu where she is enrolled in a local school.

These stories have been produced with kind permission of the Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre in Nepal.

You may be interested in:

Livability’s International Team provide ongoing support, consultancy and community capacity building expertise to SIRC and launched a special appeal to support the centre after the Nepal Earthquake.

Read Stephen Muldoon’s interview about the role of communities in spinal rehabilitation here.

You can also find more about Livability’s international work here.

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