In your journey to self-discovery: be contented. Be grateful. But most significantly, be a changemaker.

Sarah Udoh-Grossfuthner interviews the phenomenal, one-of-a-kind, awe-inspiring Stella Iwuagwu (Nigerian) — “a career nurse, a social-justice entrepreneur, an avid gardener and, of course, a dance-loving fifty-two-year-old paraplegic woman. I am also full of love.” https://www.instagram.com/siwuagwu/

The phenomenal, one-of-a-kind, awe-inspiring, Stella Iwuagwu. Photo credit, Stella Iwuagwu.

Sarah: Dearest Stella — by the way, I hope I have your permission to be informal?

Stella: Yes, do, please.

Sarah: Thank you. Funny how similar our names are, have you noticed? (Smile). Before we delved in, let me summarise what my interviews are all about and my reason for hosting them. My interviews have their origin in my upcoming book — From Fearful to Fierce (a personal memoir chronicling my journey as a fear-filled child/teen to the person I am today); and their purpose is to provide a podium to share tips and life lessons on how to lose the grip of fears and insecurities in our life to become the best version of ourselves — not just for our good but, most importantly, for the wider good, the good of our community. Stella, the truth of the matter is that many of us live an entire lifetime without really living our authentic selves. And often, this is because we’d either been told that self is worthless and therefore not worth celebrating; or we’ve been made to believe (by what we see or hear) that other people’s lives are better than ours and are therefore lives we should aspire to live rather than ours. For that reason, we spend our time pursuing the phoney — who we think we should be — rather than the real — who we really are. We end up seriously (and fatalistically) unhappy, sad, depressed, and disappointed in the process.

Stella: That is a laudable goal. I believe we should continue to explore who we are, who we want to be and strive to live fully and authentically as we grow into the best version of ourselves.

Sarah: Thank you. Now that the purpose of my interviews has been clarified let’s dive right in with the first question. Who is Stella Iwuagwu?

Stella: Who am I? Well, I am a mother, a daughter, a big sister, a career nurse, a social entrepreneur, an avid gardener and, of course, a dance-loving fifty-year-old woman. I am full of love, I am contented, I am grateful, exceedingly grateful, and I am blessed. This last bit, the ‘I am blessed’ part, always cause those who meet me for the first time to open their eyes wide in surprise. Of course, they are almost always too polite to ask, but I could always read the question in their eyes — how can a woman in a wheelchair consider herself blessed?

Sarah: That part stumps me too, Stella. Ever since I got to know you, the joy I sense oozing out of you is always simply incredible!

Stella: Yes, I am paraplegic, and I am happy and joyful, nonetheless (smile). If you could have asked me twelve years ago who I was, I would most likely have changed the dancing part to read, ‘woman who enjoys strutting around in high-heel stilettos as she moves to the latest beats.’ High-heel loving’ was one of the phrases friends knew me by during the era I once considered ‘the highpoint’ of my life — my late 30s when I was involved in a terrible car accident.

Sarah: Let’s put a pin on that for a moment. This might sound superficial — but I am confident those who are honest will relate — but knowing you would never again wear those high-stiletto shoes, that must have been pretty rough? How were you able to adjust to that identity? Did your inability to “strut” around in stilettos not change the way you viewed yourself?

Stella: With great difficulty, and yes, I must admit. Before the accident, I was sure of my identity, convinced of who I was. Part of that conviction came from my absolute, unquenchable love of dancing and, most significantly, gardening. And so when I found myself bound to my bed, unable to stand on my feet — gardening enthusiast whose very essence screamed trees and plants, grass and meadows — with a very high possibility that gardening (and dancing) were never again going to be a core part of my life the belief in who I was as a person took a considerable dive.

Sarah: As you speak, I can see the mental picture in my mind, and it almost makes me weep, Stella. If I feel that way simply from listening to you, I can’t begin to imagine how you must have felt. But, go on, please.

Stella: Because I’d always been bubbly, optimistic and full of energy, the accident, thought terrible, failed in obliterating my usual optimism at the beginning. I will be out of here in six months, I thought. But then the recovery period lingered, and one day, I found myself breaking down in sorrow.

Sarah: Wow! It is not difficult to imagine.

Stella: The months that passed were the hardest, most debilitating months of my entire life. Here I was, flat on the hospital bed, with walls for company instead of blooming flowers and sprouting plants, fighting for my very life, a life that promised to exclude two of my most profound passion even if I managed to make it out of the four walls of that hospital room alive. How was I going to live? What kind of life would be mine, anyway? Would I ever be able to walk again? And if I couldn’t walk, what kind of future lay in front of me? What hope? What was there to hope on? Even now, I can’t begin to string together words to explain how I felt in that hospital bed, within those hospital walls.

It is funny how we take certain things for granted because we view them as basic and mundane, not worth giving too much thought to. And then we lose them and realize that they were not quite so ‘basic and mundane after all.

Sarah: You took the words right out of my mouth, Stella. I was just about to say exactly that!

Stella: After debilitating months of pains and what often felt like bone-crushing therapy, I was finally able to move my limbs. The first action I wanted to perform was gardening. Gardening, the thought of being one day able to touch the ground, scoop up and run my fingers through the soil, was one of the few things that had kept me sane throughout my months of suffering and pain.

Sarah: How was that like for you…the first time you were able to garden again?

Stella: Heavenly. Pure heaven! I remember the first day I was wheeled into the garden. It was raining. I didn’t care. I asked to be lifted from my chair. I wanted to sit on the ground, on my bare butt. The feel of that ground on my bare skin was so incredibly liberating and joy-filled that I began to weep. I wept profusely, wept as if my heart was tearing out of my chest. As I did so, I picked up the soil and spread them all over me. The tears continued to stream down, mixing with the rain and the mud. I was dirty from head to toe, but it was the cleanest I had felt in months.

Sarah: Wow! Stella. There are simply no words. I can see the picture you paint so vividly. That must have been quite a turning point.

Stella: It was. That day was to begin the rebirth of the new Stella Iwuagwu, one whose heart was filled with joy overflowing daily, one who was content and happy, one who felt privileged, grateful and blessed. I’d always been a giving person, whose life, although materially wealthy by most standard, was more about people and relationship than the material wealth that was mine. Still, that day in my garden, under the pouring rain and mud-strewn ground, was to take those traits to a higher level.

Sarah: See, that right there, Stella; that right there is why I do what I do — the reason for these interviews. I challenge anyone out there to tell me they are not inspired to re-look at their life when they read what you’ve just said! How long were you wheelchair-bound, by the way? How long before you were able to do basic things by and for yourself?

Stella: In total, I was wheelchair-bound for seven years, but over time, the strength of my legs improved to where I am now able to walk with the aid of a walker.

Sarah: What was it like the first time you took that first step using a walker? Take your time, Stella; we want that image in the most glorious, most fantastic way possible.

Stella: It was a victory step. The way you will feel if you suddenly find yourself flying without wings. Every step was a victory dance, a dance of gratitude.

Sarah: There goes that word I have come to associate you with again — gratitude. You indeed are an amazing individual!

Stella: (Smile).

Sarah: I have heard you are into farming/agriculture in a big way. Would you mind telling us about that? Your agro-business is called SDFarms. Tell us a bit about that.

Stella: SDFarms stands for Sustainable Demonstration Farms. It is an integrated organic learning farm. I started the farm when I realized that we cannot accomplish the right to health without accomplishing the right to healthy food and a healthy environment. I teach people how to convert their backyards into food havens to grow organic food and nurture their health and environment. When people eat well, their immune system will be activated, and infections will be kept at bay. The more we plant fruit/food trees, veggies and herbs, the better for the environment. A healthy environment translates to a healthy population.

Sarah: Wonderful! I could listen to you talk about that alone for days! Unfortunately, our time together today is limited to just a few miserly minutes (chuckle). Tell us what your life is like today, please.

Stella: Today, when you ask me who I am, I can answer unequivocally, without hesitation. I am full of love, happy, joyful, kind, giving; I am a changemaker, resilient, driven to change and social justice; I am the daughter of the loving and Most-High God. What is my most significant achievement? I have touched lives for good, and my life has been touched for good; I am an influencer, and I have been influenced. And I am still very much a dancer. Even when I was still primarily in a wheelchair, I would listen to music, and when good beats were played, I’d wheel myself onto the dancing arena and dance my heart out. I didn’t have to stand to enjoy good dancing. But sometimes, when I saw friends wasting away great music, I would jokingly tell them, ‘lend me your feel for a couple of hours if you don’t want to dance.’ I dance even when I garden. The beauty of nature surrounds me. I am healed and nurtured as I nurture my plants and animals. It is truly the symbiotic dance of nature.

Sarah: Again, wonderful! But does that mean you feel happier in a wheelchair than you ever did standing on two legs?

Stella: Does it sound strange if I say yes? Okay, I don’t think that adequately explains how I feel today. Maybe the right thing to say is that I don’t have time to waste on regrets. Of course, I wish I could still use my legs, but not in any way that makes it sound like my present life is lived in regrets, no, not at all. I have chronic pain still, of course, the natural aftermath of the terrible injuries I sustained and wheelchair-bound for many years, but I have no time to waste wishing what could and should be. This is my life now. I am enjoying it. I intend to continue enjoying it.

Sarah: What a fantastic life outlook! Thank you, Stella; we could all stand to learn a thing, two, or even three from you. I have to say, though, that we have come to the end of our interview. However, what would you tell someone going through some life challenges out there before we wrap up?

Stella: I would tell them the same thing I tell my friends and family all the time, don’t waste your time on regrets or moaning about how you wish this could be this way or that could be that way. Like I tell my family and friends, ‘if I ever get to the point of living in regrets, then I don’t want to live at all.’

Sarah: And we have a wrap! Thanks a billion, dearest Stella, for sharing your thoughts and heart today with my readers and me. It’s been genuinely inspiring (not to mention life-changing) listening to you.

Stella: Thank you, Sarah. It is joyful to share my life and its many blessings with you and your readers.

For more on the magnificent Stella Iwuagwu, visit,

https://web.facebook.com/stella.iwuagwu.5

www.sdfarms.com.ng

@sdfarmsng

www.crhnigeria.org

@CRHNigeria

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