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‘Faith keeps my spirit up’

EXCITED: Leanna Benjamin with her mum

LEANNA BENJAMIN is such a leading light in her community she has been nominated in the Life Change category at the forthcoming Leeds Black Awards, which recognises black role models.

What makes Leanna’s nomi-nation a stand out is the fact that the 33-year-old Christian spends most of her time in a wheelchair, looked after by carers, because she suffers from myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME).

“I don’t think I’ve done any-thing to be nominated, but proud people feel that I’m worthy,” said Leanna. “When I heard, I was in bed and felt very poorly, but it brought a smile to my face.

”Leanna has suffered from ME since the age of 18, after getting a bad bout of flu. “ME is like having the flu – you get muscle aches, a sore throat, muscle spasms. I feel tired, lose concentration and experience poor temperature control; hot one minute, cold the next,” she said.

Prior to her illness, Leanna was very active, taking danc-ing lessons, and worked at BBC Radio Leicester as an assistant producer on a show called Fla-va at the age of 16.

When the ME symptoms initially struck, Leanna was studying for a Higher National Certificate in media. She did not know what was wrong, and it took doctors four years to diagnose her illness. Lean-na gave up her studies in the process.

The diagnosis hit her hard. “It was initially diffi cult to deal with and I got very de-pressed. But when I visited the New Testament Church of God in Leicester, that helped turn my life around.”

VOLUNTARY

Although the illness limits her movement, she did not let it stop her from pursuing her dream to work in the media. Between 2001-2006 she worked on a voluntary basis at the BBC Radio Leeds flagship show for the black community, Night Shift, which featured her interviews with community fi gures and gospel artists.

Despite her illness, Leanna has remained optimistic. “I’m here for a reason. I just do what God wants me to do and do my best. My faith keeps my spirit up. You have to just keep going. I was put here to do something. God has given me so many talents and I want to use them.

Since giving up her media work due to worsening symptoms, Leanna has found solace making jewellery, and in recent months started a business with her mum called Divine Creations selling handmade jewellery. This is despite the fact that for a while Leanna was unable to use her right hand, and had to retrain herself to use her left hand.

She has also started writing, and has a play in the works. Leanna is excited about her future. “If I looked on my life in fi nancial terms, I have lit-tle, but I feel very blessed and God has brought me through,” she said.

“We all have something that stops us, and limits us, but no matter what, if you have faith you can do amazing things. I’ve been to Gambia in my wheelchair.”

Visit www.divinecreations.org .uk for more details

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