by Dr. Iain Corness
so often you meet someone who can humble you, make you sit down and do a
‘reality check’ on yourself, and make you realize just how lucky you
have been in life. Wanjai (Wan) Nujan is one of those people. Still only
20 years of age, she has overcome obstacles so large that the average
person would give up. However, Wan is not an average person, even though
she is by day a mild-mannered librarian, looking after the North Star
Library on Sukhumvit Road, next to the Redemptorist Center.
She is not a local girl, coming from Surat Thani in the
south, where she is the 10th child in a family of 12 (seven boys and five
girls). When I say that her parents were market gardeners, you can soon
imagine that it would have been difficult to feed the 12 children,
especially when one, Wan, was handicapped and initially not able to feed
herself. Being born with no hands and no left forearm is really an
enormous handicap, but to watch Wan writing out library loan cards, in a
perfectly legible script using her two handless arms, made me instantly
embarrassed by my doctor’s scrawl. Reality check time again!
When she was first born, her father apparently hoped
that she would die, rather than face a lifetime of challenges. “But my
mother loved me and took care of me,” she said simply. But in a family
of 12 children there was not all that much time for her mother to give
individual care to any one child. Wan understood her unique situation and
taught herself ways to hold utensils with her stumps, to gain a degree of
independence. “I can make it, but I am slow,” said Wan.
She first began to understand the true enormity of her
loss when she went to school and other children made fun of her.
“Sometimes I cried,” said Wan, “It made me shy.” Children can be
very cruel with their direct approach to these things. It also made her
ponder on why her situation was different from other children. “I think
very much,” said Wan. A simplistic Buddhist response was given to her
questioning that in a previous lifetime a relative had cut off a
monkey’s paw. However, this was not really acceptable as a reason for
the young girl. Karma is a personal matter. The sins of the relatives are
not passed down to cousins.
So she persevered, doing well at school, and after
school, doing as her brothers and sisters did – working in the family
garden. “I can grow rubber trees, grow flowers, I can grow anything,”
she said with that bright smile which can light up a room (or a library).
In school she excelled at mathematics and science and
loved reading the stories of famous people and animals. However, in a
house where there was a minimum of three people to a bedroom, there was no
space (or food) to indulge in pets, something most children take for
granted as one of the rights of passage. Another childhood milestone is
learning to ride a two wheeled bicycle. Wan was 15 when she mastered that
art, and the mind boggles trying to imagine a teenager with no hands and
half an arm managing this feat. The independence that she had exhibited as
a very young child learning to feed herself was still just as strong.
The next stage in her life was sheer serendipity. Her
teacher in Surat Thani saw a TV show featuring the Redemptorist Center in
Pattaya, and she encouraged Wan to enroll. The center was impressed enough
by the young girl that they accepted her and assisted her with her fervent
desire for knowledge. Her subjects included Computers and Business
Management, all done in English, which was another subject she had to
master in a hurry.
Two years later, and now 20 years old, she felt she was
ready to start work, with her new-found knowledge and skills, despite the
lack of hands. Like all young job seekers, she sent off her resumes and
applications. “They did not believe me in what I can do,” said Wan,
beginning perhaps to see that life was still not a bed of roses. There is
But the North Star Library was prepared to give her a
chance, and she is reveling in it. I asked some (obvious) questions such
as how did she get the books off the shelves, thinking about her lack of
hands. Her answer took me back somewhat. “I use a ladder for the top
shelves!” Getting the books was no problem in her mind, it was just the
height of the shelves that posed difficulty! With alacrity she then showed
me how she dragged the ladder around and climbed to the top, selecting the
books with her right arm, while steadying them with her left. Easy when
you know how.
Her main ambition at this stage is to further her study
of the English language, so she wants to earn enough money to make this
possible. “If I can speak English I can always get a job.” I asked
were there any other items she had high on her personal agenda, expecting
that she would talk about raising her own family, but no. “I don’t
have a dream of getting married,” said Wan. “What I want to do is
build a house for my mother and father. My elder brothers and sisters are
mainly married and have their own families to look after back in Surat
So in this topsy-turvy world, the young girl with no
hands and initially no hope of a future, has become the only one of the 12
to leave the southern province, is the only one to learn English and is
the one most likely to become a success in the world of business.
As I mentioned at the outset, being in her presence is a humbling