jeanesse abelaJeanesse Abela, a remarkable and very wise 39 year old young woman, was born prematurely at 7 months in 1976. Her mother didn’t know she was expecting twins at that time. Jeanesse spent her first three months fighting for her life along with her twin sister, until she got better and was allowed to be taken home.

Everything was going fine until her mother noticed that Jeanesse was different from her twin sister at five months, where her sister could sit down but she could not. Her mother took her to specialists who diagnosed Jeanesse with Celebral Palsy (Athiod type). For Jeanesse this condition meant abnormal movements, stiff muscles and lack of coordination. At this point Jeanesse was referred for physiotherapy to help ease her muscles and improve physically, something she is still doing now. She was also referred to speech therapy to help with speaking clearly and communication, as well as occupational therapy, hydrotherapy to relax her muscles, and also referred for hearing tests due to long distance hearing problems due to the same condition.

At age three first improvements began to show up, as Jeanesse started to attend a special school and with the help of her kindergarten assistants she started sitting down on her own, crawling and doing basic things like playing and interacting with her surroundings. At four years old she also started to say her first words. But the best realisation was at age 6 when her teachers noticed that Jeanesse was ready to join normal children her age! She was immediately accepted both by the new school’s headmistress as well as her classmates. Jeanesse did great at school and gained good results in examinations too. She also took part in the school’s extracurricular activities such as concerts, excursions…

Jeanesse’s mother played a very important role in her success, helping her in schoolwork, homework, and always encouraged her to do what she wished to do, helping her along the way to become independent. Unfortunately her mum passed away 16 years ago, but her dad was still there for her, also doing his best to keep her happy and playing an important role in fighting for her rights while she was still young, but also up till today. Her two siblings also helped Jeanesse whenever she needed. Support in her family was amazing.

jeanesse abelaJeanesse was active in the Girl Guides for 4 years. She attended campings, marched in parades and played roles at school concerts, and was awarded school prizes along the way.

Jeanesse has had some moments of disappointment too, such as losing loved ones, but especially moments where she wasn’t given a chance to do things she knew she was capable of. Her secondary school years proved to bring some more disappointments too since there were times she was bullied by classmates, being ignored by certain school teachers and also other problems as such. However nothing disheartened Jeanesse. In fact she started to understand life more, the more she grew up. She did a lot of things like her own friends did, but she also started to see there were things which had to be different for her.

Success came for Jeanesse when she studied really hard for her O Level exams, without attending any private lessons, yet she passed from 7 subjects with the help of her facilitator at school. She was so happy and proud of her achievements and so were her parents!

After a year out of school, Jeanesse found a job as a clerk with GO. She faced problems at first because there were colleagues who limited Jeanesse with work, thinking she was not capable of doing it all, but Jeanesse proved them wrong. She showed them that having a disability did not limit her capabilities. She has been at this job for over 20 years now and is very happy. She attended courses related to her job, and also managed to pass her ECDL exams too.After her mum passed away, Jeanesse realised that life goes on. She continued to prove to those around her that she wasn’t letting life stopping her from going for what she wanted to do. In fact she went for holidays abroad with family and friends, live-in weekends, concerts, Lourdes, weekends at Dar il-Kaptan, Gozo and much more. She even had the opportunity of doing wall climbing.
Eleven years ago she had a slip disc on her neck which damaged her spinal cord and she stopped walking. She had an operation and spent six weeks at hospital for rehabilitation. She is still on recovery but she keeps on fighting to get her life back.

Some of her best memories up till now were when her sister gave birth to a beautiful boy, who she loves very much. And there was also the moment when her favourite team Juventus came to Malta and she met the players. She flew a Microlight Jet, did tree climbing, water skiing and abseiling.

Jeanesse AbelaOne of the most remarkable things that Jeanesse did was starting a group together with an old school friend, a group with the name LAND: Living Ability Not Disability. This is a nationally recognised NGO since July 2005. Its main aim is to promote inclusion, assistance, education and socialisation for Maltese youths with a physical disability. LAND encourages people to be aware that people with physical disability are like any other person, having the same energy, same ideals, same feelings and eagerness to have fun, to work and to help each other when needed. They want to make government and public and private companies aware of issues that affect persons with disability, such as discrimination, accessibility, work, housing, personal assistants etc.
In order for LAND to continue organising activities, they need financial backing to cover ongoing essential expenses such as transportation costs, hiring of vehicles with tail-lifter, newsletter, communication and participation in local and foreign conferences and seminars, and much more.Although Jeanesse resigned from the committee for personal reasons, she is still actively helping out in a way or another, as this was and always will be ‘her baby’.

Jeanesse still has a lot of aspirations for life, which include traveling, seeing a live popular band overseas, having her own flat and maybe a family of her own.Jeanesse wants the people to understand that one shouldn’t act as if they do not know how to cope with a person with disability as soon as they see one. Having a disability doesn’t mean the person has no heart to love and to feel. Society needs to accept this fact and act more inclusive.

“First see the person, then the disability”, says Jeanesse, and rightfully so!

Thank you Jeanesse for sharing your story with the world!

If you would like to support Jeanesse’s LAND you can send a donation directly as a cheque payable to Living Ability Not Disability. Send your donation at:

Jeanesse Abela LAND Group

Land Group c/o St Anthony No 2,

E.H. Furse,

Msida

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