Woman born with no arms or legs reveals her empowering fight against bullies, abusers and suicidal thoughts to become an inspiration to thousands in Colombia
Zuly Sanguino was born with rare genetic condition Tetra-amelia syndrome
Brutal bullies hit and tormented her and she was later raped as a teenager
At 15, she found herself on the brink of suicide – but turned her life around
She now gives talks, makes TV and radio appearances and sells paintings
It’s been a difficult life for this 25-year-old who was born with no arms or legs and has been subjected to bullying, sexual abuse and even contemplated suicide.
But Zuly Sanguino has proven that she is bigger than those challenges and is now a successful public speaker hoping to inspire others to overcome the hurdles they face in life.
Zuly, who lives in Bogota, Colombia, says: ‘I don’t have any arms or legs, but I won’t let that hold me back.
Inspirational:Zuly was born in Columbia with a rare condition called with Tetra-amelia syndrome, an extremely rare genetic condition that results in the limbs not developing properly in the womb
Learning to live: Zuly’s mother taught her to do basic things like making the bed, brushing her teeth and changing clothes using her mouth and stumps to grip things
‘Growing up was hard and I was bullied at school. I was called an alien and it really hurt me. I went through some dark times and even contemplated suicide.
‘But my friends and family pulled me through and now I give motivational talks at businesses, prisons and schools.
‘I speak to children who are bullied, or have disabilities, to show them having physical or mental limitations doesn’t have to hold you back.
I want to show people you can do anything if you put your mind to it.’
Zuly was born in Columbia with a rare condition called with Tetra-amelia syndrome, an extremely rare genetic condition that results in the limbs not developing properly in the womb.
She is one of six but her three brothers and two sisters did not suffer from the condition.
School was very difficult for Zuly, who was subjected to a cruel campaign of bullying from a young age which forced her to change schools at six years old, yet the abuse continued.
She had to live without her father, who committed suicide when she was just two years old.
Hard life: School was very difficult for Zuly, who was subjected to a cruel campaign of bullying from a young age which forced her to change schools at six years old, yet the abuse continued
Amazing woman: Her mother, Guillermina, has always been dedicated to helping her daughter live a normal life and convincing her she is capable of anything
At 18, she went to art college and was later asked to join her local pastor on community visits and give talks
Zuly was also raped as a teenager, which later led her to the brink of suicide.
She said: ‘I started to realise I was different to other children aged six. Suddenly I noticed they could run and I couldn’t.
‘I asked Mum why I was different. She told me I was no more different than anybody else and my disability didn’t have to hold me back.
‘Children called me alien and hit me, sometimes they’d take my snacks. It was horrible.’
Things became so difficult that Zuly even contemplated suicide when she was 15 years old.
She said: ‘I’d go to sleep at night wishing I could just wake up and be like everyone else.
‘I felt ostracized at school and didn’t have any friends. I thought there was no hope for me. Mum tried to keep my spirits up but I felt so low.
‘I climbed up to the fourth floor of our building and was going to jump. Thankfully, mum came and found me just before I did.
‘She was so upset things had got so bad. She hugged me and told me everything would be alright.
‘She told me I would go on to shine and show other people you can live a normal, happy life with a disability.’
Family problems: She had to live without her father, who committed suicide when she was just two
Abuse: Zuly was also raped as a teenager, which later led her to the brink of suicide when she was 15
Different: Zuly started to realise she was different to other children aged six because she noticed that they could run and she couldn’t
Important message: Her mother told her that she was no more different than anybody else and her disability didn’t have to hold her back
The family faced another challenge in that Zuly’s father committed suicide when she was just two years old.
But her mother, Guillermina, has always been dedicated to helping her daughter live a normal life and convincing her she is capable of anything.
Guillermina works as an assistant and has worked hard to support the family in a country that provides no financial assistance to people with disabilities like Zuly.
Her mother has always been a source of inspiration, even from a young age when she had to learn simple tasks in a very different way to other children.
Zuly said: ‘At first people would carry me everywhere or I’d roll, but eventually I managed to stand up on my own and tried to walk by propping myself up with my stumps.
‘Mum taught me to do basic things like making the bed, brushing my teeth and changing clothes using my mouth and stumps to grip things.
‘She wanted me to do everything an able-bodied person can.’
Dark days: Children called Zuly an alien and hit her. Sometimes they would steal her lunch
Pillar of support: Guillermina works as an assistant and has worked hard to support the family in a country that provides no financial assistance to people with disabilities like Zuly
Odd one out: Zuly looked different to her siblings as she posed for family photos
After being at rock bottom aged 15, Zuly slowly started to rebuild her confidence, and her life, with the help of her mother.
At 18, she went to art college and was later asked to join her local pastor on community visits and give talks.
She now makes regular TV and radio appearances and her career helps her support herself and Guillermina, who she lives with on a ground floor apartment.
Zuly said: ‘I realized I’d spent too long letting my disability get me down and I had so much to live for.
‘Gradually, with mum’s support, I began to feel more positive and got involved with a local church, where the pastor asked me if I would like to join him on community visits as an inspirational speaker.
‘My first talk was speaking to 400 college students and parents about bullying in schools.
‘I was really nervous so Mum came with me for support. But half-way through I began to cry because it was so painful reliving what I’ve been through.
‘But everyone started clapping and it gave me the strength to keep going.
‘Afterwards I felt great. Knowing I’d turned my bad experiences into something good and was helping people was so rewarding.
‘It gives me so much happiness to know I’m helping people. One boy was about to take his own life with a gun when he saw a TV show I was on.
‘He realized he had to be brave and decided not to take his life. He wrote to me and we’re now really good friends. I get letters from lots of people who say I’ve helped them through difficult situations.
Helping people: She now gives inspirational speeches to try and help others. Here she is hugging a woman at one of her motivational talks in Bogota
Teacher: Zuly taught these young people to paint with their mouths, just as she learnt to do
Great feeling: Zuly loves to know she can turn her bad experiences into something good that helps others and finds the work very rewarding
Earn a living: The motivational talks, radio and TV appearances in Columbia and paintings she sells help her make a living in a country that does not financially support disabled people
‘It’s difficult and money is tight. We make some money from the inspirational talks but not much. I also sell some of my paintings.’
As her confidence grew, Zuly also overcome the trauma of sexual abuse she suffered as a teenager and met her first boyfriend at 19.
She says: ‘He was able-bodied but very accepting of my disability and we were together for a year. We were able to have a sexual relationship. But I ended the relationship because he lacked ambition.
‘I dated another boy when I was 23 but it didn’t work out. I hope to get married and have children one day.
‘I’ve been told by doctors my condition won’t stop me being a mum. But for now I’m enjoying life and focusing on motivational speaking.’
Zuly – who lives with her mother in a ground-floor apartment – leads an active life and is like any other 25-year-old girl.
She says: ‘I can put make-up on using adjustable straps that hold my blusher and mascara in place.
‘I need a wheelchair for longer distances but I enjoy going out and socializing with my friends.’
Unfortunately, Zuly doesn’t get any financial help from the government and has to pay for everything herself.
As for the future, Zuly hopes to take her motivational speaking abroad and open an orphanage.
She says: ‘I’m proof you don’t have to let a disability hold you back. I went through such a dark time but now I’m in a good place and it’s given me a sense of purpose helping other people.’
A star is born: She now makes regular TV and radio appearances and her career helps her support herself and Guillermina, who she lives with on a ground floor apartment
Building her life: As her confidence grew, Zuly also overcome the trauma of sexual abuse she suffered as a teenager and met her first boyfriend at 19
Family support: Zuly still lives with her mother and stays in touch with her family.