It was heartbreaking to see my mother, Lucila, cry when she shared the news. Ged had died in her arms that day. She had provided care for him for over five years of his life. She had to be strong for Ged’s parents, Graeme and Patrice, and his little sister Stella, who has Down syndrome. In front of me now, she cried for the boy she had come to love like a son.
Ged had cerebral palsy and his life expectancy had always been unknown. He could not communicate, but despite this, my mother knew he loved her. He made us all smile and taught us that life is a privilege, and is often very short.
Finding a suitable carer for Ged and Stella had been difficult for Graeme and Patrice. They decided to ask my mother after she had moved in next door after immigrating from Colombia. It was a strange relationship as she could not speak a word of English, but they trusted each other implicitly.
My mum was scared at first. In Colombia, our home country, people with special needs are generally hidden away from the outside world. It is an unfortunate truth, but Colombian society is not very tolerant or educated when it comes to disabilities. When she was first asked to look after Ged and Stella, she didn’t know what to expect. She didn’t know how to best communicate with them or help them with their day-to-day needs. Ultimately, she treated them exactly as she did when my siblings and I were children. She simply treated them with respect, kindness and love.
My family, friends and I feel very fortunate because we had the opportunity to witness some of Ged and Stella’s challenges and successes. Over time we grew to love them. By taking the time to interact with them and listen to them, they helped us open our eyes to see beyond their differences and relate to them as individuals.
My feelings about this are perhaps best communicated in a quote by Stephen Hawking:
“We are all different. There is no such thing as a standard or run-of-the-mill human being, but we share the same human spirit.”
In my own words, we are all the same; we are all different. We need to celebrate peoples’ differences, as they are what make us truly valuable members of society.
Our Voices is created by Janneth Gil. It depicts the life stories of a group of people living with disability in Christchurch, New Zealand. Through experience, after immigrating to New Zealand from Colombia, Janneth found her cultural views and understanding of people with special needs challenged and came to realize that their hopes and dreams were not dissimilar from her own.
The goal of Our Voices is to educate people about the lives of those with disabilities and their support networks. Janneth’s belief is that this education will lead to a more open, tolerant and equal communities that celebrate difference rather than stigmatize it.
Throughout this project, Janneth has been supported by many individuals and organizations such as Tatiana Toledo, Kilmarnock Enterprises, SkillWise, Idea Services and Jolt Integrated Dance Studio, to name a few. She would like to thank all those who have been so generous with their time and resources and hopes her work meets their expectations.
Special thanks to those who shared their stories:
All the staff, caregivers, and support people at Kilmarnock Enterprises and SkillWise. There are too many of you to list, but I am grateful to you all.
Allison and Todd Quested
Bridget Mary Platt
Graeme Cague and his siblings Glenda and Trevor
James Biddington, his mother Jullianne and sister Sharon
Jesse Banks and his sister Holly Barwick
Jessica Agar and her mother Karyn
Lazlo Milligan and his parents Peter and Julie
Lucila Orjuela and William Toledo
Lydia Wilkinson, her parents Murray and Anita and her siblings Ruby and Eli
Maria and Susan Bonzon
Stella Crawford and her parents Patrice and Graeme
Toni Larson and Tina Mazey
I am grateful for the hours of support and encouragement from Bev Lowen and Roger Walker.
I appreciate Hannah Watkinson’s trust, help and the opportunity to exhibit at the In Situ Photo Project.
Thanks to Trish Allen for her invaluable help and professional advice.
I am also grateful for the encouragement, and collaboration of Arabella Spoors, Chloe Hamilton, Ellie Waters, Sophie Abbott and Tegan Hollis-Ristow.
My deepest appreciation and admiration to Bridgit Anderson, Glenn Busch, Trish Allen and Tim Veling . They shared their talents as writers and photographers. I’m grateful for their tireless dedication to this project.
Last but not least, I thank my partner Scott, without his support, I could not dedicate my life to do what I love most.
The archive of work that constitutes Our Voices will be predominantly shared online, where it can be readily accessible and has the potential to reach a wider audience.