In a large room, a rehabilitation technician in a white uniform took parents and caregivers of children living with disability through the paces of how to become better carers.
Children living with disability played with toys. Others mimicked paper charts adorning the walls in attempts to read.
Outside, women prepared meals in huge boulders on an open fire.
Ronado Mazango, the director of the Zimbabwe Parents of Handicapped Children Association, marvelled, and recalled how far Chivi Chengaose Children’s Stimulation Centre has come.
“From starting out at a market shed at the shopping centre, we have become a community hub,” he said proudly. “This is beyond our wildest dreams.”
The group soldiered on until many began to appreciate the purpose and started joining, and now boasts of about 700 members.
In February 2023, authorities provided a shelter — a large building with several rooms, birthing what has grown into a model for support groups established under a disability inclusive parenting programme funded by the government of Sweden, the government of Norway through Norad and the Swiss Agency for Development.
Unicef, in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare and the Zimbabwe Parents of Handicapped Children Association is piloting the project in 13 districts across the country.
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The intervention is aimed at transferring knowledge and skills to parents and caregivers of children living with disability to better prepare them for their care duties.
But the Chivi Chengaose Children’s Stimulation Centre has taken it a step further to become a one-stop centre.
Government health rehabilitation technicians are now using the centre to interact with children, unlike before when parents and caregivers took their children to the hospital to access physiotherapy and other services, but had to compete for attention with other patients such as road accident victims.
Officials, such as social welfare officers, are now relying on the platform to interact with the community and open case files of children in need of support.
Traditional leaders including village heads use the centre to identify people in need of resources such as land for nutrition gardens.
The centre has also become a vital educational resource for children living with disability, said Mazango.
He said some of the children lagged behind because their parents lacked knowledge on how to support them.
From an early age, children with hearing impairments learn to use standard sign language used at school instead of the signs they use at home that are not standard.
Those with speech problems learn to speak at the centre because no-one talks to them at home where they are usually neglected, said Mazango.
“Even children with severe disability who may never be at school, it’s good to start the stimulation process. Not all children will fit into a classroom if we look at the different levels of disability but stimulation is something which is mandatory and with better care their quality of life will improve.
The provision of materials such as toys, learning items and children’s rights literature by Unicef and other partners resulted in increased interest from once skeptical community members.
On a recent day parents and caregivers packed the centre for services, children kicked balls, played with car toys or jumped rope.
Others played miniature thumb piano and marimba, a traditional wooden bar musical instrument.
Towards sunset, parents and caregivers had a hard time convincing the children to leave for home.
“It’s okay, we will return tomorrow, the toys will still be here,” said one woman to her crying child. — Unicef Zimbabwe