Life is a journey, not a destination…

December 2, 2022
Photo: UNDP Uzbekistan

People’s lives—their real lives, as opposed to their simple physical existences—begin at different times. My life in this plane, a young boy who was born and raised in the Urgut district of Samarkand region, began in the early 1970s.

I was an ordinary kid, no different than the rest, maybe only a little short of stature compared to my peers. But later, when I started primary school, I started noticing some things that set me apart from others. My eyesight was weak. It was difficult for me to copy notes from the blackboard or read texts in small font. My parents soon noticed that I was sitting very close to the TV while watching. I was taken to an eye specialist and diagnosed with congenital vision impairment.

That discovery started changing and shaping my young personality. I found that I needed to put in more effort and be more resilient and hardworking than others to succeed in school and several other major life activities. I had to go to school earlier to reserve a seat at the front of the classroom. Recognizing faces and objects and navigating physical environments proved challenging despite countless medical treatments and acquisition of an assistive device – eyeglasses.

Photo: UNDP Uzbekistan

My hard work started paying off in school, at least. I excelled at secondary school and graduated it with a Gold Medal.

Thereafter, I successfully passed the entry exam and started my advanced studies at Samarkand State University. During this time, I started experiencing motor coordination and mobility problems with my left hand, which was probably caused by an early childhood trauma.

Throughout my life, these impairments made it difficult for him to fully participate in educational, professional, and other major life activities. However, these disabilities didn’t stop me from achieving goals and objectives. On the contrary, they shaped me to become a more determined, committed, resourceful, patient, empathetic, and service-oriented person.

Photo: UNDP Uzbekistan

After the graduation from the university, I worked at the Regional Customs Administration as a Customs Expert and completed the first project in my professional career, which was related to launching a new Chemistry Lab of the Administration. When the Administration reorganized, I experienced first instance of real exclusion as a young professional. Because of the physical and sensory disabilities, I was found ineligible for active military service, therefore, wasn’t allowed to continue my career in the Administration.

One of the only real constants in our lives are various changes. I took this change as an opportunity to explore other options and soon got a job as a Quality Control Inspector at the JV British American Tobacco (BAT) Uzbekistan. I remembers that time with BAT Uzbekistan with gratitude, for the company gave me many opportunities and training courses to help him grow, both personally and professionally. I was selected as a management trainee, completed a two-year Global Management Development program in the company, and was appointed as a Product Designer.

In our life journeys, we sometimes reach critical junctures, where big decision must be made. The choice to either move to the US or continue my career with BAT Uzbekistan was the first of many such moments in my life journey. After a great deal of reflection, I decided to leave Uzbekistan and start all over again. Of course, that required quite a courage to face the many challenges involved in emigrating to a different country, but as Aabas Sadkani puts it, “One default item of success is a risk. Those who take the risk will get the dish.”

Photo: UNDP Uzbekistan

After settling down in the US, I started working for CUNO Engineering, a 3M Company, as a Production Quality Associate. This period was one of learning and growing as I familiarized myself new traditions, lifestyles, and cultural mores, as well as professional skills.

Facing various day-to-day challenges is an inextricable part of life. In the US I encountered a major accessibility barrier - public transportation. Most established public transit systems in the US are located in central, urban areas where there is high population density and public demand. For people who enjoy driving, this may not sound like an issue, but for folks like me, who can’t drive for various reasons, it poses a significant challenge and represents a substantial barrier in everyday life.

After some reflection, and with input from friends, I decided to relocate again. This time, I moved to New York City and started working as a pharmacy technician at Silver Rod Specialty Pharmacy.

Photo: UNDP Uzbekistan

Today, we can recount my story as an adventure, but in reality, it wasn’t like that at all. Each change in my life required careful analysis, planning, preparation, resources, networking and great deal of personal commitment. Having disabilities always added extra challenges. Even the simplest tasks sometimes required extra time.

Despite being in an entry-level position at the pharmacy, I developed a comprehensive career plan and started studying various aspects of the healthcare system, including health insurance, clinical pharmacology, inventory control, and recall management. Working at the front counter with patients brought out my hidden personal traits. I discovered a natural public servant with many service-oriented qualities, which I wasn’t aware of before. Meanwhile, working closely with several Group Homes and a number of patients with chronic medical conditions started shaping me as a disability advocate. As a result of continuous education, on-the-job training, diligence, originality, dependability, and willingness to go the extra mile, I slowly worked my way up the ranks within the corporation. I actively participated in the development of the Specialty Department of the corporation and was appointed as a manager of the department soon after. My responsibilities included development and supervision of the department’s Prior Authorization Framework, monitoring HIPAA and OSHA compliance, preparing for external audits, monthly financial reports, Inventory Control, liaising relations with healthcare providers and pharmaceutical companies, recall management, medication therapy management, and training sessions for pharmacy interns, and the list goes on. I remembers that the most rewarding part of my job was interacting with persons with various disabilities, listening to their concerns, comforting them during the therapy management sessions, and offering help and support whenever possible. When they noticed my sincere and diligent efforts to help them with their treatment-related concerns and expressed their gratitude, I experienced some of the most joyful moments of my life.

As we all know, life is dynamic, and certain things are out of our control. Sometimes our actions lead to undesired consequences. After about a decade of putting in extra hours, and unregulated work-life balance started taking a toll on my health. At the end of 2019, I experienced a mini stroke. Symptoms included temporary memory loss, constant migraine headaches, and acute fatigue. The human body is a complex, highly organized structure with comprehensive regenerative and self-healing abilities, and once that equilibrium has been disrupted, it takes time to bring those systems back into alignment. Shortly after the incident, I started the road to my slow recovery.

Photo: UNDP Uzbekistan

At the end of February 2020, I decided to take some time off and visit my family in Uzbekistan. At that time, nobody knew that a few weeks, the Great Pandemic of our time would change everyday life around the World. Due to COVID-19, international travel has stalled, business have closed, the global supply chain has been disrupted, and countless people lost their livelihoods and lives.

As many others, the pandemic has been quite challenging for me too to navigate. In addition to adjusting to new public health measures, I was also going through a challenging reintegration process after being absent from my homeland for about 20 years. This time of isolation and lockdowns gave me ample opportunities to contemplate my next steps. I considered pursuing opportunities with humanitarian organizations and volunteering, but it took time to find a suitable position. After about a year of career search applications and continuous online learning activities, I finally received an offer to join the UN Volunteer Programme as a National Specialist on Disability Inclusion. Being more familiar with the private and healthcare sectors, I initially found this transition difficult. In addition to the change in terms of system thinking, I also had to adapt to the teleworking. It hasn’t been easy, but with the help of friends and colleagues, I’m now continuing my journey as a UNV – Disability Inclusion Advisor at the UNDP Uzbekistan and well on my way to further reintegration.

I would like to add that this is a life story, like many others, gives us an opportunity to learn from another person's experiences. It can shape, strengthen or challenge our opinions and values. This is also a story about a person with multiple disabilities. He is not telling it to portray himself as a hero, like David in the story of David vs Goliath, not at all. I am telling it to share my ventures, how I have been experiencing life at this particular juncture of space and time. I am trying to convey that there are always possibilities for every human being, regardless of age, race, gender, disability, or any other form of diversity. Anyone can undertake daunting goals and overcome seemingly insurmountable physical, environmental, attitudinal, and other forms of barriers on the road to success. Above all, every human being is entitled to enjoy fundamental rights and freedom on the path to self-realization.