Yoliswa Dube-Moyo, Matabeleland South Bureau Chief
Failure to obtain assistive devices stands in the way of any prospects for a brighter future for many physically-challenged rural children.
These children in most cases cannot access education due to long distances travelled to school.
Experts say these children are often left behind in rural development interventions and in some cases are seen as objects of charity, medical treatment and social protection instead of individuals who are capable of exercising their rights, making decisions based on their free and informed consent and being active members of society and the economy.
In some rural communities, children with disabilities are hidden from the public eye by family members who are ashamed of them or believe they are a form of curse.
However, through organisations such as the Nkomwa Foundation Trust, disabled children from rural Matabeleland South are set to realise their dreams as the organisation is providing them with the assistive devices.
The Trust’s director Mr Pick Nkomwa said rural children living with disabilities tend to face more challenges than their counterparts in urban areas.
“They are less likely to have attended school, less likely to be employed, less likely to be attended by a skilled health worker and less likely to own a mobile phone.
Similarly, they are often left behind in rural development interventions,” said Mr Nkomwa.
He said it was important to avail assistive devices to rural children with disabilities so that they can attend school and realise their dreams.
“The impairments that exist among children like hearing, visual and physical impairments require assistive devices but there are a lot of children with disabilities in these rural communities that do not have them.
Lack of assistive devices hinder children with disabilities from accessing education among other social services due to long distances travelled to school and other service centres.
However, the provision of technical aids, medical intervention and professional support are important for children living with disabilities,” said Mr Nkomwa.
He said technological assistive devices are essential in assisting learners to meet the physical, sensory and communication needs in order to enhance their participation and involvement.
“Provision of assistive devices helps children with disabilities to participate in community development initiatives. An assistive device is a necessity for one’s independent life.
Not that it helps the user but also reduces the burden to the caregiver and the entire family,” said Mr Nkomwa.
He said people with disabilities in rural communities experience various forms of discrimination.
“These include direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, discrimination by association, multiple discrimination, intersectional discrimination, unequal burden discrimination and denial to reasonable accommodation discrimination.
Wrong perceptions about children with disabilities, labelling and negative beliefs all work against children living with disabilities.
Children with disabilities appear to be a nuisance in societies.
This is as a result of disability being linked to social ills such as witchcraft, theft and curses from the gods. Such practices create a source of additional handicap for children living with disabilities.
Negative perceptions also generate feelings of shame among families who hide their children with disabilities from the public.
Such perceptions generate long term effects on children with disabilities and development of the marginalised communities,” said Mr Nkomwa.
He said lack of empowerment for people with disabilities caused by their absence in the public sphere, lack of a proper database and lack of access to education hinder their progress.
Mr Nkomwa said in most communities people with disabilities are part of the Child Protection Committees only on paper but in reality they do not participate.
“Their participation in child protection issues is usually shattered by their failure to attend meetings and failure of service providers to reach them.
There is segregation and discrimination in communities based on disability.
Children with disabilities are rendered useless, which results in low self-esteem that affects their participation in community development,” he said.
The foundation has made significant strides in ensuring that rural children with disabilities acquire the much needed assistive devices.
“Through partnership with like-minded organisations such as the Bible Society of Zimbabwe, the organisation has supported 20 young people with different disabilities with wheelchairs, walkers, crutches and walking sticks (white cans).
The organisation is mobilising more resources to assist 60 more children with disabilities identified in various communities in Matabeleland South province and beyond,” said Mr Nkomwa.