Last week, when I was in South Africa, I was among some who were recognised by the South African National Council of the Blind for the work we are doing in advancing the rights and interests of blind and partially sighted people in Africa. Such recognition causes me to think about many people who have contributed to making me what I am today. I would like to reflect on my early childhood and the role which one member of the family played in my education. Article 23 of the UN covenant on civic and political rights states that the family is the basic unit of development and must be protected at all cost. Today, I hope by some chance, my post will catch the eyes of those who value the family as such.
There came a time when my parents, relatives and even church leaders accepted that I was blind and that was not going to change. This in my view was a giant step towards progress. I must state with emphasis that I did not experience disability related discrimination at home at all. I was never reminded of my blindness. I was never over-protected. I went with other kids to play as we herded cattle, climbing the high Shuma trees and doing all sorts of naughty things kids could do.
I have always bragged in public about my parents being my heroes because one of the greatest decisions they have taken was to send me to school. I can feel volumes on that point if pressed to. Yet there is a story of my education which I have hardly told and a hero I have hardly sung about in public. Dear reader, you are part of the few people who will start knowing about this hero.
There is a 9 year difference between my elder brother William and I. Naturally, Bhudhi Willie as we affectionately called him, grew up as a quiet shy boy. Of course, these days he now talks a lot. My mother often expressed concern about his reserved character and feared that it could be some kind of naivety. However, I knew at the earliest possible age that he was one of the astute people I had ever encountered. Firstly, I discovered with great shock how William was a brilliant story teller. He did not only tell me stories but taught me to tell stories coherently. Yes I remember this from as early as I was four but I don’t know when he had started this. Perhaps, if it had not been for him, I wouldn’t have been able to write what you are reading right now.
I reflect with great surprise Willie’s deep sense of appreciating my need for self-reliance. At the age of five, William had taught me three big lessons:
- First, he taught me to distinguish the left shoe from the right. I mastered this remarkably and most of the people were surprised at how I correctly wore my shoes without assistance. More so, because all my age mates who were sighted were failing to do this. in Shona we say, “vaipfeka banana”.
- Secondly, William taught me to walk confidently and to recognise huge objects in front of me such as walls without touching them.
- Thirdly, William was one of the first people to understand the power of my memory. He, being a big fan of one blind musician called Paul Matavire, started taking me through the processes of singing and cramming Paul Matavire’s songs. Thereafter, the program was changed into a literacy program. William therefore, became my first teacher who taught me the whole alphabet. I remember that by the age of 6, I could count from 1 to 100 and I had mastered the alphabet from A to Z. It was this which convinced my parents that I should be sent to school but I doubt anyone ever imagined the role that William played. As for me, in those moments when I would sleep and dream talking to God, I would hear God using William’s voice
I have always heard that blind people are special people who need special education from specialist teachers and workers. Which specialist school had the then young William, my first teacher, trained at? Get me right! I have great respect for those who have trained in special needs or better still inclusive education and the role they continue to play in lives of blind children but I think the foundation should start at home. I dedicate my award to William and all others like him.