In Zimbabwe, the disability that prevents Munashe from using his hands proves no barrier to his education

By Bertha Shoko

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, 28 December 2012 – At King George IV School of the Disabled, 17-year-old Munashe Chikuvanyanga, a Form 1 student, is taking a final examination in mathematics.

Munashe writes in his exercise book with his feet. A physical disability prevents him from writing with his hands.

The teacher expects him to complete the exercise in the same amount of time allotted for all students for the test because Munashe insists on not being given special treatment.

“I don’t like being treated differently because I am disabled,” says Munashe.

A marginalized group

Because of more than a decade of socioeconomic challenges, many children living with disabilities in Zimbabwe are among the most marginalized and excluded groups of children. Compared to their peers, they are less likely to access health, education and other social services. They are often excluded from opportunities to participate fully in their communities, and are more vulnerable to violence and abuse.

On 3 December, Zimbabwe joined the rest of the world in commemorating the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Observed since 1992, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the rights, dignity and well-being of persons with disabilities. This year, the theme was ‘Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all’.

Removing barriers

UNICEF, working with NGOs and different ministries of the Inclusive Government of Zimbabwe, has been engaged in efforts to improve the lives of children living with disabilities.

Under the first phase of the Education Transition Fund, which saw the distribution of more than 22 million primary and secondary school textbooks throughout the country, 3,200 braille textbooks in the core subjects of English, mathematics, environmental science and Shona were produced. Before this intervention, many visually impaired children had been at a severe disadvantage.

In addition, through the National Action Plan for Orphans and Vulnerable Children Phase II (2011–2015), with support from the Child Protection Fund (CPF) managed by UNICEF, 20,000 households, including children and young people living with disabilities, are receiving a cash transfer of up to US$25 per month. Preliminary results from an independent quality analysis of the programme show that the transfers are helping families take care of orphans and children living with disabilities by paying for school fees, blankets, food and clothing.

Targeted interventions

The CPF also includes a component of interventions targeted specifically towards children with disabilities.

For one such effort, UNICEF, with a local partner and in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare and the Ministry of Education, Sports, Arts and Culture, is working to restore the ability of rehabilitation and school psychology departments to deliver holistic and effective services to these children at home, at school and in their communities.

In addition, through CPF complementary funding, UNICEF and a partner are working with the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare to implement a national small-grants programme for children with disabilities that funds assistive devices such as wheelchairs, hearing aids and hospital care.

These initiatives aim to support parents to care for children living with disabilities and to challenge stigma and discrimination such that institutional care is a last resort.

A chance to learn

Writing on a piece of paper, Munashe explains that, born with this disability, he was trained at a young age by teachers at King George IV School to write with his feet after physiotherapy had failed. His parents had brought him all the way from Zvimba to Bulawayo so he could have a chance at an education. Munashe boards at the school and spends holidays at his home area in Zvimba.

“I thank my parents for bringing me here. I have a chance to learn,” he says. “I want to be an accountant when I grow up.” But, despite Munashe’s opportunities, there are still limited prospects in the country for people living with disabilities.

“There is need for greater efforts to ensure children with disabilities have access to basic social services and protection to enable them to realize their full potential,” says UNICEF Country Representative Dr. Gianni Murzi. “It is the sheer determination and drive to succeed by children like Munashe that should inspire us all to strive for a better life for those living with disability. We must therefore do more.”