Nematullah Ahangosh, 29, was living in Kabul in 2016 when doctors told him he had muscular dystrophy.
Almost immediately, his thoughts turned to survival.
"At first I was a bit sad," he tells DW over a video call. "But very soon I started to think very differently. I started to ask myself what I could do in a disaster situation or in the event of a civil war. How can I survive?"
‘No one is talking about this'
There was, and still is, no easy answer. There is not much help and very little infrastructure for people with disabilities in Afghanistan, even when the country is not in a crisis situation.
"Right now no one is talking about this. There is almost nothing in the media. I believe the situation for people is really bad right now,” he explains. "But before August [when the Taliban seized control] there was very little to help accessibility.
The ruling Taliban appointed a deputy minister to continue running the country's Ministry of Martyrs and Disabled Affairs after taking over Afghanistan, but Nematullah says it has been a long time since he heard any news about people with disabilities in Afghanistan.
"People that I know who were working in jobs they can do, for example as teachers, they are just stuck at home now. Hunger is everywhere, and for people with disabilities the situation is twice as hard,” he laments.
But he can just as easily rattle off examples from other countries where people have been left stranded – or worse – during natural disasters.
"For example, last year in Japan 14 elderly people drowned in a nursing home," he says. "This year in July, 12 people with disabilities lost their lives in a care facility in Germany because they were not evacuated in time."
"It's not the first time people with disabilities are facing these problems."
‘People with disabilities have different solutions'
Back in 2016 Nematullah came to realize that he, and others in similar situations, would have to learn to rely on themselves. The idea stuck with him that the best thing to do would be to provide people with a form of tailored crisis training, enabling people to make the most of their skills.
"We need to have confidence to help ourselves, mobility skills to get out of difficult situations and find refuge and negotiation skills, for example if we have to negotiate with the Taliban," he says. "We need survival skills like everybody else."
People with disabilities respond differently but also effectively in a crisis, Nematullah says. He mentions Michael Hingson and his guide dog Roselle, who led 30 people to safety from the 78th floor of Tower 1 during the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
"People with disabilities can help people in new ways and come up with different solutions. I want to do the same," he adds.
‘You look like you're dancing when you're walking'
A lot of Nematullah's motivation for empowerment comes from his own experiences. When was 12 and living in Kabul, his father suffered a stroke. The family tragedy meant that he and his older brother were forced to look for work to make ends meet.
But while his brother found work at a tailoring shop and factory, Nematullah worked too slowly and was turned away. Instead, he sold what he could on the streets, from chewing gum to cigarettes to dry cell batteries.
At the same time, he was worried something was wrong with him. He was often subjected to mean comments.
"People used to make fun of me and say things about how I looked like I was dancing when I walked. It really hurt me," he remembers.
People with disabilities are more than just a number
To reach his aims, Nematullah has founded his own organization Stretch More. He started in India, where natural disasters also pose risks to people with disabilities, but he is aiming to expand training in survival skills, physical mobility and entrepreneurship to other areas of Asia, including his homeland. His goal is to give people the skills they need to save themselves but also recover more quickly after a disaster.
"I want to help people around the world. We are increasingly represented in statistics, numbers and pictures, but I want to look at a bigger problem that we face that is not represented well, which is the inability to cope in a crisis,” he argues.
His efforts have been supported by kanthari, an Indian organization that aims to train leaders from different backgrounds and help them start social organizations and initiatives in their countries.
"Being affected by Muscular Dystrophy, Nematullah knows what it means to be swept to the sidelines. He however refuses to become a victim of circumstance, instead he takes the lead to make a difference for those who have a similar fate," said Sabriye Tenberken and Paul Kronenberg, founders and directors of kanthari.
Nematullah and other program participants are presenting their initiatives on December 17-18. The event can be viewed online here: www.kantharitalks.org/
Edited by Kristin Zeier