DEFYING DISABILITY: a boy who made his foot write

IMPRESSIVE — Ian takes down notes using his foot

It’s not the disability that defines you: It’s how you deal with challenges the disability presents you with. We have an obligation to the abilities we do have, not the disability.”- Jim Abbott.
Most people were born able-bodied, without any disability or challenge that would prevent or discourage them from being productive citizens of the world.
Strangely, some of these people do not wish to go to school, cannot find piecework and cannot hold a hoe. They go about begging for help in the country’s townships and cities. Fully grown men and women shamelessly go street after street, scavenging, looting and committing all sorts of crimes to make ends meet.
Others claim that their parents were too poor to send them to any school or that education has never been their calling. Others just do not want to be productive and live a meaningful life.
There are others who have justifiably been discouraged by the numerous challenges in life and have given up on life.
And then there is a rare crop of humans. Survivors and fighters who have refused to let their disability define their course of life.
The world knows of 25-year-old Jessica Cox, an American with no arms, who became the first pilot ever to fly a plane using only her feet.
While so much has been written about the others, little has been told about Malawi’s own wonder kid 15-year-old Ian Makolija – an ambitious and determined boy who defied his disability and to use his feet to learn.
He was born and raised in a poor family in Area 25, Lilongwe. He is the second born in a family of three. His mother is died. He lives with his father.
Makolija was born with a rare defect that rendered his arms immobile; hence, he cannot use them to do anything. He also struggles to speak.
“At the age of four, I noticed that my age-mates were using their hands to write but I couldn’t. I started to train my foot to write things down until Iwas able to write,” says Makolija.
His guardian, an aunt who is based in Lilongwe, says Ian’s interest to learn things on his own from a young age amazes her.
“He always tried to do things on his own. He learnt to write, bathe, eat and do many other things by himself,” Elina Mawaka says.
He did his primary education at Aquaid Primary School in Lunzu, where his Head teacher, Alfred Chidothi, told The Daily Times that the boy was not subjected to any special treatment.
“We did not treat him differently from the others. He was given the same tasks like everyone else. I think the secret lies in his determination,” Chidothi says.
Last month, Aquiad Primary School, a school for the orphaned, was awarded for sending Makolija to a national government secondary school.
Blantyre Rural District Education Manager, Paul Chipanda, is pleased with the young man’s hardworking spirit and says his office would help should the boy need any assistance towards his studies.
Earlier this year, Ian earned himself a place at Blantyre Secondary School (BSS).
The Daily Times followed Ian to his class to witness how he interacts with his classmates and appreciate how he uses his foot to write
From a young age, Ian has been using his feet to do everything including eating, washing and bathing.
At lunch time, The Daily Times then followed Ian to his hostel to see how he takes his meals using his feet. It was interesting to see him fetch a spoon, hold it using his foot and feed himself.
Ian also took interest in the phone I was carrying. He lifted it using his feet and scrolled through the photo gallery.
He then gave me a little teaching from a geography book about the earth and its components.
BSS Head teacher, Hilda Gwauya, says Ian is a bright boy and is determined to learn.
“He is quite bright. They are soon to write their end-of-term exams and I am hopeful that he will perform. The challenge we see is that for him to be able to write, he has to sit on the floor. We give him extra time to do class exercises and tests,” Gwauya says.
Ian, who aspires to be a judge in future, encourages the disabled not to be discouraged by their condition.
He wrote a few words using his foot on a piece of paper.
The words read: “They should work hard to achieve their goals and pray to God. Hard work pays.”
Meanwhile, Ian complains that he sometimes experiences a sharp pain when writing using his foot.
He is thankful to everyone at BSS, who he calls his friends, for their support during his day-to-day activities.
His guardian at BSS, Emmanuel Mwahara, who is popularly referred to as Ian’s Father, has a few words to share.
“Whenever Ian has issues with his pals or has a problem that needs someone’s help, he comes to me and I calm him down,” Mwahara says.
When leaving for class, Ian is aided by one of his oldest friends at BSS, 11-year-old Alexander Chisi, who says he met Ian on his first day at school.
During weekends, Ian says he likes to play with friends and watch football. He is a member of Central African Presbyterian Church.
Ian says he is proud and thankful to God for the talent he has of being able to use his feet to do things.
Meanwhile, disability issues are not seen as high priority in Malawi. For instance, children with disabilities are mentioned only once in the just expired Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MDGSII).
With over 160, 000 disabled children in Malawi alone, the problem is enormous.
According to the Malawi Housing and Population census records, the most common form of disability is hearing loss at 23 perecnt, followed by visual impairment at 17 percent. Mobility problems are at 16 percent while communication difficulties are at nine percent. All other forms of disability are classified as ‘other’ and constitute 35 percent of children with disabilities.
Stories have been told of how people with defects grow up stigmatised or how they fail to access basic services.
In more serious and unfortunate instances, tales, which sound more like mere fiction, have been told of how parents lock them up in their homes; too ashamed to expose them to the outside world.

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