Text by Lasha Shakulashvili

Photo by Elene Shengelia 

Four years ago, Salomea Gogeshvili's life radically changed.

The mother of two was in a horrible car accident. She survived the crash but the doctors had to amputate her right arm. For weeks she felt like she was falling down a dark abyss. She lost her arm and was quickly succumbing to the fear that, together with her arm, she had lost the ability to raise her children – as well as the physical beauty that defined her as a woman.

“When I was afraid, my self-worth was critically low. I became so helpless that my thoughts would only evolve around these questions: ‘Can anything good still happen to me? Did I really make so many mistakes? Do I really deserve to be loved again? Will I ever be able to call myself a happy person?’” 

But Salomea did not succumb to her fear. Instead, after a month of drawn curtains and dark rooms, she decided to live.

Salomea loves to cook. Preparing delicious food is one of her favorite hobbies and she collects cookbooks. After the car accident, she had to learn how to do many things with her left hand.

Immediately after her accident and the amputation, Salomea struggled with everyday life. But she soon found the strength to carry on.

“After a month of hiding from the outside world, one day I realized that I could no longer continue in such isolation and depression. I had to stand strong for myself, for my children and all the people who truly cared for me,” she recalls.

“I approached a mirror, took off my clothes and stood naked in front of a mirror. I looked at myself and somehow hugged what had remained of once my arm. I told myself that my body was beautiful and I loved it.” 

Even with acceptance, however, Salomea still faced enormous challenges. She struggled to dress herself, let alone cook or take care of her children. Tasks that used to come naturally – like writing – had to be relearned.

She still remembers how painful it was to see that her handwriting that was no longer impressive or beautiful. To encourage herself to write again, Salomea started filling into “diary of gratefulness,” where she listed down her blessings.

She began to realise that her biggest fear was how others would see her. 

Several months ago Salomea got married to a man who appreciates and supports all her achievements. Now she and her husband are creating a life full of love and mutual respect.

Salomea has received training to become a professional life coach. She is now looking for a place to offer sessions so she can help people empower themselves and live more fulfilling lives.

“For now, my main purpose is to help others. This is what I always wanted to do and I feel it’s a vocation for my life.

The UN estimates that
15 percent of the world’s population—about a billion individuals – have a disability. Out of that number, an estimated 80 percent live in developing countries, like Georgia, according to the World Health Organization.

There are very few studies on the level of services Georgia provides for people with disabilities. 

The services available really vary around the country, and there are fewer services for adults with disabilities. "The total amount the Georgian government allocates for pensions for people with disabilities is significant, but there are few resources allocated to improving services in the country, notes Jeremy Gaskill, the chief executive officer of MAC Georgia. The actual amount of the pensions - 120 Georgian Lari a month per person -- falls below the poverty line.

The government does not offer any physical therapy programs for adults,  notes Giorgi Akhmeteli, the founder of the Accessible Environment for Everyone NGO. For instance, some regions of the country, like the Autonomous Region of Adjara, do not cover treatment or physical therapy as part of the state-run universal healthcare program due to the cost.

MAC Georgia’s Gaskill said while the situation has improved over the last five years, the country needs to do more to educate the wider public about people with disabilities and break down barriers. 

Akhmeteli, who is in a wheelchair due to a spinal injury, adds that stereotypes are especially difficult to overcome. Too often, society sees the disability instead of the person. The discrimination can lead to mental health problems, he says. 

"People who become PWDs [person with disabilities] as adults encounter stereotypes not just from outsiders, but from their own social circle as well. Even your close acquaintances change their attitude and start treating you with pity; they automatically label you as less capable to succeed in life,” Akhmeteli says. 

“Adults who became PWDs later in life are ‘invisible’ for the vast majority of programs and initiatives.”

Makeup is a form of expression for Salomea and she loves the confidence it gives to her.

Salomea lives in the present with passion and energy, while looking to the future with high hopes. She now feels stronger and more motivated than ever before.

Salomea’s determination to create a normal life for herself and her children has become a model for other people who became disabled as adults, Akhmeteli adds.

“When I stood in front of a mirror, naked and when my soul open, I found what I was looking for: a strong belief to love myself again and a strong will to redefine how society defines a person with a disability,” Salomea says.

But she found that even as she was overcoming her own fears and learning to overcome her limitations, others were not.

 “No matter how empowered and motivated I feel, the outside world still considers my disability as the inability to fulfill certain tasks or functions. People have set their prejudices on what I can do and what not,” she says.

For instance, once she applied for a job, and her prospective employers found out about her amputation “they went quiet.” “I wrote to them on Facebook and expressed my concerns about them being possibly discriminatory toward me. Despite of the fact that they said it was not discrimination, as a member of the staff was promoted to take the job– I knew that I was not hired because I had a disability,” Salomea remembers. 

“Later they offered to find a ‘suitable position’ for me, so that I would not be overloaded with work. Their attitude of judging my abilities to fulfill tasks made me furious and I lost motivation to talk to them again.”

She refused to give up, however. 

Today Salomea is a successful actress at the Tbilisi Inclusive Dance Company as well as vice-president at the Georgian Para-Taekwondo Federation. She also studies full-time at the International Association of Coaching and Speakers. This year she was a speaker at A-spire, a TedX-inspired event for young women with disabilities. She also recently married a man who believes in her ability to create her own path to happiness.

 “You should always remember to remain fierce and have enough courage to face something that had been scaring you the most. In fact, after confronting your biggest fear personally, you discover that, in reality, that specific fear of yours is not as great as you had believed.”