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UBC student lost her sight, but not her dreams

Rumana Monzur, a UBC student who was attacked and blinded by her husband in Bangladesh seen here October 11, 2011 during an interview with the Globe and Mail in Vancouver.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

On a campus where she used to marvel at the greenery, Rumana Monzur now tracks the changing seasons by their smell.

Instead of fine-tuning her thesis, the University of British Columbia student – blinded in a brutal June attack in Bangladesh – is learning Braille.

But while the assault robbed her of her sight, it has not erased her dreams.

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"My dream was doing a PhD, and that was the reason everything happened," Ms. Monzur said on Tuesday at the University of British Columbia. Giving up on her academic dream would be a victory for her attacker, she added.

"I don't want him to win. I don't want to lose."

Ms. Monzur is on medical leave from graduate studies at UBC, where she enrolled last year as a master's student in political science. On a trip back to Bangladesh to visit family, she says, her husband attacked her while their five-year-old daughter was in the room. Her eyes were gouged and her nose bitten in the attack. Her husband, Hassan Sayeed, is in custody on charges relating to the assault.

Ms. Monzur said her husband was unhappy with her academic career and threatened by her studies in Canada, which she pursued without his consent.

The case generated international headlines and galvanized support for Ms. Monzur, both in Bangladesh – where she'd spent five years as an assistant professor at Dhaka University – and in Vancouver, where university staff, students and administrators raised funds to cover her medical and living expenses.

She spoke to media this week to thank those who have supported her. To date, the university has collected about $85,000 on her behalf.

"Of course, it was a surprise and it gave me a lifeline," said Ms. Monzur, who is living on the UBC campus with her daughter and her parents.

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In July, Ms. Monzur – who had been seen by specialists in India – made a rushed trip back to Vancouver, where it was hoped that doctors might be able to restore some of her vision.

Despite several operations, her injuries were beyond repair.

Since then, Ms. Monzur has been working with CNIB instructors to learn new or modified routines for cooking, safely navigating her home and neighbourhood, and studying. She's also working with UBC's access and diversity department to investigate technology options that could allow her to continue her program.

Both she and her daughter are receiving counselling.

"She was asking me, 'Mama, if you could see, if you were like before, would you pick me up every day from school?' – and I told her, 'Yes, of course.' So she misses that. She misses playing with me. She misses painting with me – I can feel that and so I try to play with her in a different way," Ms. Monzur said.

CNIB representatives have discussed the possibility of a guide dog with Ms. Monzur, but it's too early to say whether that will come about, she said, adding that she's never had a dog or even a cat as a pet.

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She continues to receive medical treatment, including surgery on her nose, which was maimed in the attack.

Besides her daughter, her studies – which focus on climate change and how it affects developing countries – remain her primary focus.

She was more than half-way through her thesis and wants to finish it and go on to a PhD, although conceding that schools and advisers might have reservations about taking on a student who lost her vision just a few months ago.

"My focus is first to finish my thesis," she said, adding that she has not made long-term plans about where and how she and her daughter will live. She compared herself to a child who has to learn to walk before she can run.

"Because everything has changed for me. My life has changed. Four months earlier when I left Vancouver and UBC, I could see.

"Now when I come back, I had to smell it. I have to smell my campus."

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More

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