Week of Persons with Disabilities: Azul Banfi was born with Spastic Paraparesis, which meant weak, stiff legs. She found her strength within.
December 05, 2020
Do you remember your first bike? Mine was green, and it was awesome. I rode it for years, even when I was already too big for it. I loved that bicycle, but I'm pretty sure I didn't love it as much as Azul Banfi loves hers.
For most of us, learning to ride as kids meant we could play and make errands and have fun with other kids in the neighborhood. For Azul, an administrative assistant from Pergamino, Argentina, riding means independence, freedom and hope. As a person living with spastic paraparesis, which limits her capacity to move, finding a bike of her own was a triumph.
Spastic Paraparesis (SP) is a movement disorder that causes weak, stiff muscles. In combination with difficulty maintaining balance and stumbling, SP can turn walking into a major enterprise. Azul's case is tied to her premature birth.
“I was born at six and half months, and had a respiratory failure that caused negative effects on my motor skills,” she explains. “I had difficulty learning how to walk. I couldn't do it without a cane until I was 7.”
Indeed, Azul was different. But, as we’ve established, different is often another word for great. Azul’s mother was the first one to let her daughter know she was just as good as anyone else; that no matter the challenges in life, there was nothing she could not accomplish.
For instance, finding a job. Azul has been working at Cargill Argentina for 14 years, an experience she wouldn’t change. For her, work means family.
“Here, I can talk to colleagues and managers without fear of discrimination. We’re all the same, after all. We’re not defined by our roles or our limitations,” she says. “Behind every name there’s a human being that deserves respect and sincerity, and even a smile. I love my job!”
She’s got plenty of reasons. In 2019, Cargill Argentina began a committee for inclusion and diversity, whose focus is a cultural transformation: to support all employees and make them feel safe and listened. One of the projects developed by the committee is the RedDi, a network for people with disabilities.
The network aims to identify and remove barriers of any kind that could make it impossible to hire talented people with disabilities. With the support of over 50 employees from all businesses and functions, RedDi is already making strides educating employees and promoting Cargill as a friendly workplace for people with any disabilities.
“Being able to work makes a big difference,” Azul says. “I pull my weight. I’m part of the team and what I do matters.”
Working is a triumph, and that’s something that Azul never takes for granted. She doesn’t forget the importance of accomplishing a day of honest work, just like she doesn’t forget the importance of humor in her life (“I’m always making jokes about myself”) or the meaning of her bike.
Okay, okay. Here’s the story of her bike, in Azul’s words:
I had been looking for a mountain bike for a while. I needed something that would make me feel comfortable, but what I found didn’t fit my needs. It was frustrating, going from store to store, from website to website, not finding what I needed. Until a friend of mine designed the prototype, and then we found a workshop that took on the challenge of building it. He and the folks at the workshop worked for hours. They did it out love. Thanks to them, I have a bike that gives me the balance and comfort I need. It gives an opportunity to exercise. Most importantly, it gives me independence. It reminds me I’m free. I can do anything, with patience, perseverance and respect for others.