“The Lighthouse gave me the foundation and courage to persevere.”
Homebound for six years in Tanzania, Suleiman Rifai came to Lighthouse International to turn his life around.
There was a time when Suleiman Rifai sat at home for six straight years, mired in a deep depression with little reason to live. Suleiman, born in Tanzania, East Africa, was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, an eye condition that slowly leads to blindness, at the age of 14. With his vision deteriorating, he didn’t know where to turn. Without the ability to learn Braille or receive low vision services in Tanzania, Suleiman was forced to drop out of school after the seventh grade. “It was a rough time,” he said. “I was afraid because I felt I couldn’t do things.” For the next six years, Suleiman was a prisoner to his crippling eye disorder.
Thankfully, that changed when he moved to the United States in 1979, at the age of 18, and sought out Lighthouse International for rehabilitation and mobility training. Suleiman slowly took back his life, learning the daily living skills necessary to be independent. “[The Lighthouse] gave me the foundation and courage to persevere,” he recalls. “It’s where I discovered that there is life.”
With a newfound confidence, Suleiman received his GED with the help of the Lighthouse before graduating from Adelphi University with a master’s degree in social work. Currently, he is a psychotherapist at a homeless shelter in Brooklyn, NY, helping people with substance abuse and mental health issues.
Along the way, Suleiman also developed a love for athletics. He has completed four New York City Marathons, two Boston Marathons, and was the first blind runner to compete in the Empire State Building Run Up. On October 23, 2010, he will also take part in Lighthouse International’s Double Up 4 Vision Tandem Bike Ride and Walk. Suleiman will join one of six cycling teams crisscrossing through all five boroughs of New York City in a 24 hour Tandem Bike Relay in support of Lighthouse International.
Almost three decades after he was homebound, suffering from retinitis pigmentosa with no sense of self-worth, Suleiman stands here today an accomplished and distinguished individual. “It was a journey,” Suleiman said of his inspirational story. “It wasn’t easy because of the obstacles in my way … but somehow I managed to make things work.”
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