The Importance of Re-Evaluating our Views and Treatment of Disability

By Nyasha Matavire (Exec Director, CLUBHOUSE Zimbabwe)Sometimes when I make my Mutare trips to visit the kids on my own, I go by bus and travelling by bus in Zimbabwe is quite an experience. You encounter a lot of things and sometimes you have to endure a lot of discomfort: what with the roadblocks; the heat in the bus; the many stops; the mothers who just can’t seem to stop eating and feeding their children! Things are even worse when you get a seat by the aisle, you will have to dodge everyone coming in and getting out of the bus during the many stops. You also, however, learn a lot during these rides.My recent trip was no exception. When we reached Rusape, which is a small town just before Mutare, a heavily built blind woman boarded the bus. As soon as the bus was on its way again, the blind woman started singing an old Shona hymn moving up and down the aisle begging for money. She would momentarily stop at a random seat and stretch out her hand and wouldn’t move until someone therehad put either a coin or a dollar bill in her hand. Her singing was far from good and I doubt that people who gave her money gave her because of her singing; it was just because they are good people who understand the concept of helping out those in need. I have to confess, I wasn’t convinced. Silently, I went into my social pundit mode, criticized everything that the blind lady represented. I have never been an advocate of the whole institution of begging, and that is why I have great respect for the disabled vendors I see in town everyday trying to make a living. I strongly condemned how this lady on the bus was going about her business, she was too professional and methodical for my liking, like this was some kind of trade. In between her hymn she would make stops where she would give small speeches of how terrible her life was, and how we were supposed to have mercy and show her our good graces. Quite compelling speeches and most people were moved, I was far from moved still. I observed that just from Rusape to Mutare, which is about 65km(40 miles)  the lady should have made more than $10, and if she gets into lets say 5 buses a day, that’s about $50 a day, multiply that by 30 days and this lady pockets $1500 per month, tax free. Only God knows the number of able bodied people who are taking advantage of this woman and actually profiting. Then something happened as we were about to reach Mutare, the blind lady’s phone rang (yes, beggars have cellphones too). I couldn’t help but eavesdrop and apparently judging from her side of the conversation, this lady actually owed someone some money and in my life, I have met very few people that know how to negotiate with a debt collector like this woman. I was impressed, but I still had that feeling where something deep down was telling me that there was no honour in all this. My soul was troubled, and my disregard for this whole institute of begging was all but rekindled.The feeling stayed with me throughout the visit but as I was pondering on it on my way back something struck me heavily: this lady was simply making the most out of a very unfortunate circumstance of her life. She had bills, she needed food and society and probably her family had brought her up in a way that made her to believe that the best that she could ever be was a beggar, and boy, was she one of the best in the business. What is society doing for those that are born with disabilities or who get disabled earlier on in their lives. Of course we have some who are born in very good families with very sound support structures but it’s not always the case, especially in impoverished communities where kids with disabilities often have to grow up in neglect and most of them are not even being taken to school. Sometimes the neglect is due to frustration of having given birth to a child with disabilities and sometimes its just pure ignorance, not knowing that if this child is nurtured to reach their full potential, they can become and achieve anything in life.At CLUBHOUSE we cultivate leadership and understanding, and the disabled represent a vast constituency where people with great abilities and great talents are not being nurtured to become the best that they can possibly be, especially in High density suburbs. Anyone reading this who has stayed or is staying in any of our high density suburbs in Zimbabwe probably has a few examples of disabled people, either physically or mentally, who were left to grow without the proper guidance necessary for them to achieve something in this life. These are the beggars we see on the buses and on street pavements in town today. Let us cultivate that leadership in them, because it is there, let us firstly help them understand that disability does not mean inability. Then from there we provide resources and opportunities to help them fulfill their dreams, because they have dreams too, even if they sometimes do not know it. I get shivers when I think about that blind lady on the bus and her talents, from being efficient and methodical, to being a good negotiator and orator. Where would she be now if she had been raised in an environment where her talents and potential were harnessed and nurtured and guided in the right direction, with all the resources being in place? I can only wonder, the good thing though is while we cannot teach an old dog new tricks; we have a lot of younger versions of this woman who we can raise differently.A few weeks ago when I was in Gweru and talking about CLUBHOUSE with one of my mentors, a blind pastor, he casually asked me a question that caught me off guard. What is CLUBHOUSE doing for the disabled in the communities that it serves? I didn’t have an answer. We are going to be introducing programs that help young kids with disabilities to take charge of their lives and of their communities, to make sure that they grow up into all rounded citizens that are not a burden to society but are actually a part of the solutions to the problems that our communities are facing. Disability should never be a factor when we talk about success; it should always be about a person’s ability and desire to be the best that they can possibly be.

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