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When community support pays off

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By Daniel Kasondo:

MTAMILA — My neighbours keep tracing me just to ensure my safety

It is 6:30 am and time to go to school. Showers continue mercilessly. However, the harsh weather condition is not an obstacle to ambitious Bizwick Kabambe’s zeal for classes.

He bravely gets into the rain with his locally made plastic schoolbag to protect his books from being soaked.

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To most children with disabilities, the rains would be an excuse for not going to school.

But Bizwick crawls three kilometres on muddy road to Chikuli Primary School near Lirangwe Trading Centre, north of Blantyre City. He is determined not to miss any class.

“Despite my disability, I made sure that I get educated,” Kabambe says.

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He says his father always encouraged him to work hard at school because his disability would deny him most menial work.

“Most of my colleagues were involved in loading and offloading goods in trains and buses at Lirangwe, which I couldn’t,” he says.

Kabambe says his legs became paralysed when he suffered from cerebral malaria at the age of three.

“But now I challenge that my brain and mind remain razor sharp to overcome any obstacle to my aspirations,” he says.

Kabamabe is now a tailoring and fashion designer instructor at Friends of Cod Hol in Thyolo Association Technical College in Luchenza Municipality, Thyolo.

Apart from owing the success to his parents, he attributes his achievement to the role played by the community in his life, both at home and school.

“I have reached this far because of the support I received from the community. My parents couldn’t manage to raise me on their own. In fact, my parents died while I was young,” he says.

Kabambe says his parents bought him a wheelchair for easy mobility while relations pushed him to school.

“I was not discriminated against at all. My family and community were good. They provided for all my material and physical needs,” he says.

To this effect, Kabambe says, if all communities upheld the rights of children with disabilities, most of them would not be in the streets.

“Most children with disabilities like me come from poor families which cannot afford basic necessities.

“So, if the community doesn’t care about the welfare of such children, they become destitute,” he says.

Kabambe, however, says the issue is not just about money but perception towards the children.

“Most people have negative perception towards children with disabilities.

“Some children are still being locked up in houses. Others are ridiculed and face stigma and discrimination,” he says.

Kabambe cites mirror discrimination despite numerous ‘inclusion campaigns’ by various human rights bodies.

“One day I was on a shopping spree in Limbe when an Indian sent a worker with some coins to give me upon entry in his shop.

“I told him I was too smart for his coins and that I went to the shop for shopping.

“He apologised for his conduct,” Kabambe says.

Special needs teacher Josephine Mtamila says community’s attitude towards persons with disabilities has an effect on their future life.

Mtamila, who has albinism, explains that she has gone through different cycles to become a teacher.

She says, apart from her parents who struggled to support her education, neighbours also played a crucial role.

“Some paid for my school fees and provided groceries while others gave me clothes.

“This was the trend until I went to college,” she says.

Mtamila adds that apart from the material support, well-wishers also monitored her movements in the wake of attacks on people with albinism.

“I grew up in Bangwe Township in Blantyre. Despite working in Thyolo, my neighbours keep tracing me just to ensure my safety.

“I receive calls from Bangwe daily,” she says.

The Standard Four Chisawani Primary School teacher, therefore, wishes communities had deliberate interventions for persons with disabilities, particularly children.

Last year’s Malawi Broadcasting Corporation’s Innovations Awards recognised a Luchenza-based young man with disability Charles George who operated a bicycle taxi with one leg.

The exposure through the programme landed him a rare opportunity.

EMPOWERED — George poses with his motorised pedal bicycle

A Blantyre-based man, who asked not to be identified, bought George a Tanzanian made motorised bicycle.

George says the motorised bicycle has transformed his life.

“I am making more money than before because every customer would like to ride my new bicycle,” he says.

To this effect, George believes that lives of people with disabilities can change if people develop interest to see them excel in society.

“The community has a role towards our well -being. We don’t need to be neglected if we are to be productive,” he says.

“In my case, I am no longer struggling with pedaling. I can’t believe I was doing this tough business with one leg,” George says.

During commemoration of disability month organised by Federation for Disability Organisations in Malawi in Thyolo recently, Traditional Authority (TA) Bvumbwe asked communities to support persons with disabilities.

Bvumbwe said he established a special committee at TA level that looks at the affairs of people with disabilities in his area.

He said, through the committee, children with disabilities are supported in their education while the elderly are provided with financial and material support for their small businesses.

“We mobilise money for the initiative and it works. We’ve helped children with fees and the elderly with business capital just to improve their living conditions.

“There are men and women with disabilities with various skills who just need small support for them to start small-scale businesses.

“Communities can do something about it; it doesn’t have to be government or non-governmental organisations always,” Bvumbwe said.

Thyolo District Disability Forum Chairperson Sam Chigamba says it is high time communities realised that persons with disabilities can also contribute to national development.

“We need to assist them grow into productive citizens and include them in all development programmes,” Chigamba says.

“I appeal to traditional leaders to emulate Inkosi [TA] Bvumbwe who initiated community support for persons with disabilities in his area,” Chigamba says. – Mana

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