As society aspires to disability inclusion, it bears reflection that People with Disability (PWDs) are grouped together as if they are a homogenous fraternity, they are not. This in the same way we refer to black or white, African, Asian, European, as if this covers the full spectrum of whom these people are within those groupings.
By Patience Ukama
To understand who they are, and how they want, and need to be supported, we visited several households around the country and encountered some of the most happy-go-lucky, full of life people we had ever met. And indeed, some of the most broken and tortured souls on God’s green earth.
The mother of a 12-year-old mentally challenged boy talked about how she struggled to the point where she herself now feels disabled, a 28-year-old victim of a crocodile attack, pleaded for help to seek further medical assistance for severe pain, having had her arm amputated in 2014. And a deaf 30-year-old mother of a bouncing baby girl lamented at length, her struggle to find a job with her affliction so she can give her daughter the foundation for a better life.
The principle of do No Harm, often came to mind as we listened to their sometimes heart wrenching tales of neglect, loss of dignity, and isolation.
We struggled to see the merits of being among the 177 countries that signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which lays out Articles in pain staking detail, on the various rights and obligations to level the playing field, when so many of the people in this category still feel excluded, and without hope.
At the end of the day, it was clear that people with disabilities want the same things that everyone wants, they deal with the same issues, but are weighed down by the categorisation of them as “people” with disabilities.
It is possible that the bias and burden of inclusion sits with the able-bodied and not the disabled.
By categorising people in broad strokes, we lose the intrinsic richness of the individual human being. Indeed, we can better mask our fears, cultural beliefs, myths, and superstition when confronted by a different category of people if we do not have to deal with them as individuals.
However, a glimpse into the lives of a few “individuals” with disabilities will show that they are in fact only human.
Mrs Chimedza- when dignity is no longer an option
“I had to ask passers-by to carry me onto the toilet because I could not manoeuvre my wheelchair in there, and then lift myself off the chair, to do my business. You forget about dignity because where will that get you. I am a widow. I live with my son.” This meant dealing with going to the bathroom once a day by asking perfect strangers for help to get to the toilet. Sometimes they would stop and assist, other times they would not. This is Rosie Chimedza’s* story.
We find Rosie sitting on her bed, surrounded by a sample of crocheted mats, that she sells to meet her medical and household costs. Her son has since married, so she lives with him, her daughter-in-law, and granddaughter in her small accommodations. She does not own the incomplete structure in which she has a room, use of the kitchen, and bathroom. The rest of the house is yet to be built. Her room is packed from wall to wall with the clutter of accumulated years of living. She points out the deflated tyres on her wheelchair, which she has failed to get repaired because of the cost of new tyres (US$10 each). None-the-less, her dear-old-faithful (wheelchair) still gets her to town and to the hospital when in need. “I pay full price on the bus despite being unable to walk. Only the blind are exempt from paying. Where they think I get the money from, I honestly do not know.” Says Rosie. She explains how other patrons often complain when people like her take the bus. “They think we will delay them because someone has to help me out of the chair onto a seat, then pack the chair away and do the same again at my stop.” She is grateful that she has never been abused when getting transport. “At the hospital, the nurses are rude, and do not allow us to go to the front of the que because they accuse us of getting to the hospital late intentionally.” (Munozviitisa imi). However, when Rosie gets off the bus, she still has to get across town to the hospital in her wheelchair with its bad tyres. “But I suppose it is not every day.” Says Rosie. She was born disabled and raised by an aunt, to avoid bringing shame to the family. She is raising her disabled nephew with the little means she has, as he was disowned by the family too. She was never married. Rosie is a beneficiary of the DanChurchAid- European Union Urban Cash Assistance Programme, where she receives a monthly cash contribution of US$12 per person in her household which she uses to buy food and medication.
MaiCharles- No greater faith has a mother in her son.
MaiCharles (Memory Ndire*) limps out of her house, where she greets us with a huge welcoming smile. Petit in stature, a widow with three children, Memory (40) is an active, cheerful, strong-willed lady, and has no problem stating her mind. Memory is a beneficiary of the DanChurchAid- European Union Urban Cash Assistance Programme, where she receives a monthly cash contribution of US$12 per person in her household. Memory has lived a hard life. Born disabled, as a child she would crawl to get around and only learnt to walk when she was already at school. There she aspired to one day, grow up and become a teacher. “My wish is for my children to go to school,” says Memory. Her eldest child Charles is 16 and completing his O Levels. Memory, refers to him as “almost an Engineer.” She says that once he has finished his studies, he will build her a big house and take care of her, as the man of the house since his father passed away. She believes one day he will give her everything her heart desires. The other two children are 14 and four years old, one of whom is also disabled. They live in one of Harare’s many urban sprawls, (Ushewokunze) that sprouted on the outskirts of the city, in the early 2000s. As such, there is no infrastructure and no services such as running water. Like many widows, Memory has no rights to the partially complete house in which she is living. She is merely a long-term temporary caretaker at the mercy of the owner, her late mother’s friend, for whom she provides security for her investment. Memory was practically a nomad until she was asked her to look after this house. In May 2022, in the evening while relaxing with her family, the roof of the house collapsed due to a strong gust of wind, landing on a kitchen unit that fell on Memory. Luckily, she did not sustain any injuries. A few of the handful of worldly possession she owns were damaged, but she is just grateful to be alive to help Charles further his dreams.
Evlyne – the story of a young woman who gave up
We arrived to find Evlyne Dewe* sitting by the door of her rented room for which she pays US$10 per month. She explains that she is often unable to raise the rent and lives with the constant anxiety of being on the streets with her children. The downcast, 37-year-old widow has visibly experienced a hard life and looks about ready to give up. Her husband died in 2020, he was murdered. She sold everything she had to survive, but with two young children, she was forced to move to the city in search of work and a better life. What she found, wasn’t better. It was just a different set of (urban) problems in place of her old (rural) problems. Today, she takes on whatever casual work she can find to keep a roof over her children’s heads, and to put food on the table. Her daughter is enrolled at a ‘private school’ which means a “school” which is privately run by a private individual, who provides education to a small group of children for a small but significant fee to parents in the area. These establishments are not always formerly registered and very rarely designated as academic tuition sites. Evlyne is a beneficiary of the DanChurchAid- European Union Urban Cash Assistance Programme, where she receives a monthly cash contribution of US$12 per person in her household. She was raised as an only child. She lost her right arm in an accident. Her arm was burnt in the blankets in which she slept, after catching fire. She had to be amputated at a young age. Her life however, proceeded as normal with the support of the family, until her parents passed away.
Whatever the solution to Zimbabwe’s disability inclusion challenge, those with disabilities need first to be seen as individuals, not just as a category of people.
The European Union funded, multi-purpose urban cash assistance project in Harare South (Ushewokunze, Crest Breeders and Churu Farm), and in Mzilikazi (Cowdry Park, Old Magwegwe, Mpopoma/ Matshobane), implemented by DanChurchAid comes to an end in June 2022.
For 100 years, DCA has served communities, restoring dignity in the lives of those we serve. We received a warm welcome at every household we visited, and for a moment we were part of their stories, and they too became a part of our story. It is our sincere hope that our small contribution has made a lasting difference in their lives, and that the skills we shared will continue to serve them well into the future.
See https://fb.watch/dIJuY6CiqS/ to see how the community responded to the project.
About the writer: Patience Ukama, is the Communications Officer at DanChurchAid Zimbabwe.
*Not their real names