Born without hands and feet, 22-year-old Saube Kandeu of Neno District is constantly trying to prove to the world that disability is not inability. Despite doing his best to be self-reliant, financial constraints remain his constant headache. THOMAS KACHERE Writes
A strange hush engulfed the maternity room at Neno District Hospital on July 1 1999.
It took Saube Kandeu’s piercingly cry to break it [the silence]; that typical loud cry a baby makes when earthily air beats its body for the first time.
According to his grandmother, Ruth, the silence that engulfed the room was courtesy of relatives, who were touched by the fact that the baby they had, for nine months and 16 days, waited for had no hands and feet. How would he farm?
This was to mark the long-term relationship between Kandeu and adversity, which he has learned to beat, albeit needing moral, technical and financial support here and there.
Surprisingly, despite being born without wrists and feet, he always starts his day by doing household chores—just like any other person without a physical challenge.
“I have things I want to accomplish in life. As such, each and every day, I work around things that would make my life easy, like everyone else’s,” says Kandeu, while seated on the veranda of a dilapidated house one of his friends rents in the district.
“I was born without wrists and feet and, like everyone else, I want to make the best out of life. That is why, despite having no feet, I do not have problems with mobility. I can walk and cover long distances and, on top of that, I do many things by myself.
“The only thing that demoralises me is that people look down upon me. In fact, many a time, they end up excluding me from development activities. When it comes to development activities, I am sure that I am discriminated against, which is not supposed to be the case in a free country like Malawi,” he added.
However, the form three drop-out is not surprised that, despite his earnest efforts to fend for himself, his labours are often not rewarded.
Kandeu said, in Malawi, discrimination is an in-thing, something people wallow in without regret, let alone a hint of shame.
“I have braved discrimination from the time I stepped my foot in standard one at primary school level. Often, classmates could come hard on me, either through attitude or brazen words. Some of them could tell me off in my face.
“Even school authorities— those who are supposed to know better— would reinforce prevalent perceptions, often without knowing it, I believe. For instance, I could be sidelined from sporting activities because people thought I could not play, say, football, even though they knew I wanted to. You know what happens in the society— where some people would feel sorry on your behalf. Sometimes people think they are doing you a favour when they are doing you a disservice. I have gone through it all.
“In truth, discrimination contributed to my dropping out of school. As we speak, I have been denied many opportunities to do piecework simply because people judge me based on my condition, and never based on the potential I have. I do not give up, though. Never will,” said Kandeu defiantly, punching the air with his wrists-less arms.
For starters, Kandeu can farm, saw and compose and play music, which he is passionate about, during his free time.
And he dreams big, more so because he allows his thoughts to wander about. Financial constraints limit his potential though.
“My greatest wish is to become an electrician. I want to become a qualified electrician because electronics is my passion. I know how I will handle electronics. All I lack is capital for business and financial muscle so that I can start lessons and realise my dream of becoming a qualified electrician
“If I could be trained in electronics, I would try to meet my needs because, honestly, there are a lot of things that I lack and if there could be a chance of being assisted by well-wishers, all I would need is funds for training in electronics and capital so that I can venture into small-business. For now, becoming a fully qualified electrician would clear my financial path,” Kandeu said.
Kandeu is not short of admirers, one of whom being Federation of Disability Organisations in Malawi (Fedoma) acting Executive Director Symon Munde.
“Saube Kandeu is a man who knows what he wants and this is what we, as Fedoma, have been promoting all along. We always say that among persons with disabilities there are lots of abilities and these abilities need to be explored. We, as a nation, need to realise this. Other countries have realised the potential embedded in persons with disability and are benefitting quite a lot from the abilities of such people.
“And, in Saube Kandeu’s case, you can see that here is a man who can do various activities. In so doing, he is no longer a liability or a burden to the household. To the contrary, the household stands to benefit a lot from his ability,” Munde said.
Munde added that persons with disability know that they have some capabilities within them, adding that, if countries could utilise such capabilities, they would help rid the streets of beggars.
“To other people with disability, I say let those abilities you have unfold; take yourself as any other person. The abilities you know are hidden in you should come out and please try to do something that you know you can do and make sure you show the world that you can be part of the solution,” he said.
Munde, however, bemoaned that the government has not fully embraced persons with disability.
He wondered why, up to now, the country is still using the Handicapped Persons Act of 1971 which, he said, needed to be reviewed.
‘‘I think there is a charity mentality to say, ‘if we are doing it to a person with disability, then it’s out of good will’. When it comes to processes related to serving people with disability, they [policymakers] are always too slow. This is why it took the government almost eight years to enact the current Disability Act. These are pieces of legislation that are advancing the rights of persons with disability so that they can become contributors to the development of the nation,” Munde said.
He urged the government to increase the financial allocation towards the implementation of Disability Trust Fund, which, he said, has been decreasing instead of going up.
Community Development Minister Patricia Kaliati applauded Kandeu for believing in himself, adding that it is people like him who should be supported to meet their dreams.
“These are the people we want to support because their efforts are encouraging. They are showing the world that they can do wonders despite their disability status. The message to other persons with disability is that they should identify what they are capable of doing so that we can help each other in making their lives better,” Kaliati said.
Kaliati said her ministry was, working in partnership with development partners and other well-wishers, providing various forms of assistance to people with disability.
Malawi has over two million people with disability, representing 13 percent of the total population, according to National Statistical Office indicators.
However, most of them are visible in streets of cities such as Blantyre, Mzuzu, Zomba and Lilongwe, where they beg for money and, sometimes, material resources in a last-ditch attempt to support their families.
The 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number eight promotes inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.
But, to people like Kandeu, failure to access training in electronics and elusive sources of capital stand between his dream of becoming self-reliant and SGD goal eight for decent work opportunities to be available to all.