Disability Won’t Stop Heba’s Dreams of Being Gaza’s Top Horse Rider
Hi Heba! Can you tell us about your background?
My name is Hebatallah, meaning gift from God in Arabic. I am 17 and in the 11th grade in Gaza City. I am the eldest of three sisters and one brother. I had a congenital amputation at birth. Doctors say my case is so rare. It only occurs once in every 200,000 cases.
I wore my first prosthetic leg as an infant, before my first birthday. I was able to walk at 11 months. My mom says I am independent, because I relied on myself to stand up and sit down without her supervision. The earliest years of life are so essential in shaping who you become. Now I feel like a strong building that stays intact before all types of weather.
My mom is the reason for my success in everything I do. Because of her, I grew up knowing that nothing is impossible. As I get older, I realize that nothing can stop me from doing what I want and what I love.
How did you get interested in horseback riding?
I fell in love with hoses when I was really little. My early drawings were all shapes resembling horses. I have never feared them despite their huge size. My mom used to take me to pet horses while she held me in her lap, and I guess we became friends afterwards.
At age of eight, my family and I moved to Norway, but I continued riding horses. We stayed there for four years, during which I mastered a lot of riding skills. When I returned to Gaza, I stopped practicing for a while so I could catch up with what I missed in Arabic class. Later, I returned to my passion and joined a riding club. I made it to the second level and started jumping fences.
What inspires you to continue?
My parents’ full support. They believe that I can learn great personal values as a horse rider. When I jump over fences, I feel like I’m jumping over all the negativity that I see around me. In my dictionary there is no “impossible.” The word “impossible” is only a shield, and behind hide the ones who are genuinely disabled.
What kinds of challenges do you face?
There are many challenges. I can’t practice all sports with the prosthetic leg. I get support from my community, but there are always weak people who destroy instead of build. I’m disappointed when people judge unfairly and think that people like me are unable to do regular things. On the contrary, we live our lives normally and can do even better than those without physical disability.
Tell us about your dreams for the future.
The sky’s the limit as far as my ambitions go. I want to study journalism. I hope to be known worldwide and be the first girl from Middle East with a prosthetic leg who jumps fences on horseback.
What else do you do in your spare time?
I love playing guitar, but I stopped temporarily because of an ailment in my hand. I will carry on with it as soon as I get better. I also volunteer with the Red Cross and I took part in psychosocial support services at the Prosthetic Limb Center in Gaza.
What is your message to the world?
To me, the only person with disability is the one who accepts failure and quits, the one who says “I can’t.”
All photos by Mohammed Zaanoun.
Even after this war is over, the decimation of life and infrastructure in Gaza will take many years to overcome.