When Endurance Otobi first told his parents that, while at school, he had noticed he could not see properly, they had paid him very little attention.
A story of how Endurance Otobi defied the odds
After he was left blind and helpless for seven years, Endurance set to prove that he could make something of himself.
Either due to the austere nature of their finances or the comfortable assumption that the young boy didn’t know what he was talking about, his constant complaints were put aside.
In a country where physical challenges are treated like life-changing limitations, that sort of oversight can set one back for the rest of his lifetime.
At the time, Endurance was not worried about serious issues like the rest of his life, instead, his attention was torn between the things that pique a young boy’s interest as he navigates childhood.
By the time he got into secondary school, his sight had deteriorated badly.
“Something happened in my former compound”, Endurance says. “They said, one woman used ring to slap me on my right eyes. So since that time, the other eyes now got blind. When I went for a checkup, the doctor said it’s Glaucoma.
With the comfort of supposed fetish missives now disposed of, Endurance’s parents considered the possibility of a surgery to treat the condition.
But where their love and hopes reached for a solution, their finances dragged them back. The couple could not afford the operation.
They prayed and fasted, as most people in their position would, but by 2002, Endurance was blind in both eyes.
What followed was a long period, between 2002 and 2009, where he basically sat at home, at the mercy of his parents and anyone who cared enough to empathize with his fate.
Most people didn’t. Among primary physical challenges, Blindness is often treated as the most limiting. It does not help that a fair number of less-fortunate people with this challenge often turn to begging.
After seven years idle and helpless, many of his neighbours and “friends” began to taunt him. Endurance recalls that some told him that there was no future. One day, his mother called him and asked him to go and beg.
“Finally, I found myself in School of Blind, Oshodi. I never really know that God really have plans for me there”, Endurance says, “They taught me how to weave only bags”
He spent two years there in the school’s boarding facility, with help from friends and well-wishers who sponsored his stay there.
In 2010, he began weaving bags and teaching his skills to others who were interested.
But that was only a stepping stone.
Last year, Endurance was invited to the Equipment Life Foundation. It was while he was here that the idea of making shoes first occurred to him.
“I sat down there, thinking. What can I really do?”, Endurance remembers.
“Look at people that have eyes. This is what they can do. I said I want to shock the world”
“I want to make something like shoes”, he decided.
He picked up his shoe and after speaking with some of the staff, he got to weaving.
But nimble fingers do not a good shoe make, so Endurance spoke to a friend who helped him find a cobbler.
The cobbler who they found, Mr Kazeem Alieu Abiola, was so startled by the work that he saw that he immediately doubted Endurance’s ability.
“When he brought out those materials. I was wowed", Mr Abiola remembers.
"Are you sure you’re the one that knitted this?’’, he asked Endurance.
Endurance said he was.
“Even the guy that came with him, confirmed it, and that day, I was lost for words, I said, okay no problem.”
“At least, we have many of them begging around, I said "Let me give you some support", that’s how I meet Endurance’’, he continues.
In his daily life, Endurance reflects the same ingenuity and capacity that confounds those who meet him.
Beyond the barriers set by his blindness, he has found a way to lead a nearly-normal life with his roommate, his friends and the many patrons who share his story with anyone who cares to listen.
“I have one friend that’s living with me.”, Endurance says, “So, in the morning, I’ll wake, draw water from the well and take it to the bathroom”
“I have a younger sister that normally cooks for me”, Endurance says of how his culinary needs are met. “(When) I go to work, I’ll board a bike and tell them ‘’this is where I'm going’ to and they’ll drop me there”.
People are a big part of Endurance’s life. When he’s not working, and sometimes when he is, he is locked in banter with one or more friends, talking about issues as random as what colour is in vogue.
“I love interacting with people because I want to know more about them “, Endurance laughs in a corner of the shop where he now sells his shoes and wares.
“Sometimes I’d ask people “how is this thing”, “what is going on right now”, “what is that thing that is in vogue”, they’ll tell me what is going on.”, he adds.
“I also go for motivational talk”, he continues. “They do invite me to talk to people like teenagers, like youths, so that they’ll not become a liability to themselves.”
It is relationships with people like these, near and far, and the edifying effect of his extraordinary resilience that has helped to elevate Endurance from nearly resigning to his fate to a success story in his own right, the blind cobbler who defied all odds to make something of himself.
“Immediately, I reach (where I buy products, they would know that this is what I want”, he says. “I’d touch it, whether the thing is full or it's little, feeling it”
“Mostly I deal with feelings”, Endurance says of how he works and gets by on a daily basis. “I feel most things which I want to do, and majorly all of my life is all about feelings”
Living by feelings is one thing. Inspiring them is another.
Endurance is aware of his limitations and what he needs to bridge that gap, to an extent at least.
“In the area of financial assistance and having the money, there’s no NGO’s, no churches, so that’s the area I've been looking on how NGO’s can come in and support the work”, he says of how the government and other institutions can help blind artisans by himself, before almost in the same sentence plundering into some advice for the younger folk.
“I’d advise the young people out there, despite what they’re going through in life, their background has nothing to do with their life”, he says “They should just have the right thinking. When you think right, you can be at the top.”
This inner zeal, a rare feeling of innate capacity that precludes every limitation is what sets Endurance apart the most.
Some would say he defies the odds, but in many ways, he simply refuses to see them.
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