SIMBARASHE Mandishona held one end of a wire using his mouth, while his hands strung beads into the other end to fashion a key holder. Several finished items in red, yellow and blue sat in a grass basket, ready for the market.
“People are already hooked to these products so finding customers is easy,” said the 15-year-old, who is challenging perceptions that stereotype children living with disability as charity cases.
Beading and other craft work have become Simbarashe’s weapon to fight a scourge that hurts him most: children with disability moving around begging at local business centres or in buses.
“Part of the problem is when people feel that they don’t have capacity to look after themselves.
“It leads us to begging, which strips away our self-esteem,” he said, taking a pause from his work.
“It open us to ridicule as some people see us as a nuisance, it also makes us more prone to violations.”
In Zimbabwe, children living with disabilities such as Simbarashe are acquiring new skills to fully realize their potential.
It is a vocation that is helping restore the children’s dignity and debunk negative connotations in a country where many people view people living with disabilities simply as welfare cases.
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Simbarashe owes his newly found talent and passion to the establishment of a support group for people living with disability under a programme implemented by Unicef in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare and the Zimbabwe Parents of Handicapped Children Association.
Funded by the government of Sweden, the government of Norway through Norad and the Swiss Agency for Development, the support groups are equipping beneficiaries with skills in trades such as weaving, sewing, knitting, beads making and nutrition enterprises.
According to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, State parties to the convention should guarantee the right of persons with disabilities to work on an equal basis with others by stimulating their skills, merits and abilities.
State parties’ should promote opportunities for self-employment, entrepreneurship, the development of cooperatives and individual enterprise to mitigate the conditions of poverty that many people living with disabilities live in.
The support groups formed in 13 of the country’s districts are helping Zimbabwe march towards realisation of these values set out in the convention.
The peer-to-peer model adopted by the support groups is enabling persons with disabilities to conquer prejudices, reach economic independence and fully immerse themselves in all aspects of life that they used to be excluded from.
“We are changing the narrative,” said Chimbidzikai Cynthia Machaka, a multi-talented 56-year-old who is in charge of the training initiative.
She said the initiative started as a means to ensure self-sustainability for food and other items needed for a stimulation centre used by children living with disability.
Individuals brought cooking utensils from their kitchens for use at the centre.
Others brought homegrown crops such as beans and maize to feed the children who spend most of their daytime at the centre.
Some made rag dolls for the children’s playtime. Then the idea of entrepreneurship kicked in.
“We realised that the women who take turns to take care of the children at the centre also need money for food and other household items. Also, adolescents living with disability needed income generating skills to wean them off the dependency syndrome,” she said.
The resultant 30-member group includes both children and adults, with the youngest member aged 12 years old and the oldest closing in on 60.
Many of the products are made from local resources.
Powder from baobab fruits gathered from nearby bushes are used to make flavoured drinks. The seed is ground and roasted into a delicious coffee that is full of health benefits.
Others use grass to weave multi-purpose baskets. Some took to yarn, scissors and needles to knit fashion handbags.
The nutritious “Nyemba pie”, a bean pie made from cowpeas, is also becoming a hot seller at nearby shopping centres.
Nyemba is the name for cowpeas in the local Shona language.
“We can’t always wait for well-wishers to take care of our needs when we can use our hands to survive,” said Machaka.
It is a mission that resonates well with Simbarashe, the 15-year-old who makes beads.
“Society doesn’t give us a chance so we have to give ourselves a chance,” he said.
“Roaming the streets to beg for food, clothes and money is not a solution.”– Unicef Zimbabwe