Zimbabweans with disabilities have been urged to look for ways to market their skills so that society can appreciate their contribution to national development.
This call was made by Shepherd Tembo who stays and works in Marlborough, Harare. The 41-year- old father of three is disabled in both legs and walks very slowly without a walking aid. He only went as far as Grade Four but taught himself landscaping and horticulture through observing housing and company premises and looking through landscape books.
Tembo, who is employed as a gardener, says he is convinced he should start his own company run by people with disabilities. He says through his savings he has put together implements that will help him launch a landscaping and horticulture company.
Tembo says this idea came into his mind after realizing that many qualified people with disabilities are failing to secure formal employment.
“When I requested to be employed the managers told me that I was sick and could not be given any job. I realised that people with disabilities should not resort to begging after failing to secure employment. They had to hold their heads high and start their own enterprises.”
Tembo says people with disabilities will only get respect if they are bold in showing their skills. He says people like him are called names even by those close to them. This motivated him to start composing songs with a message. On some weekends he teams up with a local band to entertain revellers who enjoy music with a message.
“I composed this particular song when I discovered workmates were calling me names behind my back. They were calling me “wobbles” in reference to the way I walk. I realised that people with disabilities also needed songs to make them realise that they are special beings who need to stand up to negative forces in society.”
Tembo’s wife, Ripisai, says it is important that the government gives her husband a small piece of land to start his landscaping and horticulture business as he is determined to succeed.
She says, “I admire the way he works. He is so skilful and thorough more than those who are able-bodied who mock him. Our employers are truly amazed.”
She says if people with disabilities start successful projects they will gain respect from those who look down upon them.
“Friends and relatives did not like it when I got married to Shepherd. They despise the fact that he has received recognition working in Harare while they are still struggling in the farms.”
Tembo’s employer, Grant Clark, says people with disabilities should receive encouragement to help them achieve their goals.
“What really struck me when I came to visit my mother-in-law, Betty Guild, when I drive in I can see the work he is doing and done here. What really shocked me he can do things with the capability he has got and it struck me that a disabled person can do that when other people can do it but he can do a lot better.”
Clark says Tembo will succeed in life if he receives the necessary support from society and government.
“I do vehicle tracking, what he can do I cannot do and can never do. It takes years of experience, it takes months of what he does and I appreciate that,” says Clark.
Thomas Muchadenyika, a pastor with the United Pentecostal Church, who is disabled in both legs and walks with the aid of crutches, says Tembo’s attitude to life should inspire others with disabilities.
“Other people with disabilities must learn that crying only, seated down will not help. You have to do some initiatives. If you have a little opportunity utilise that opportunity that the world at the end of the day will see that he is doing something, let’s also chip in.”
Journalism student, Patricia Mucha, says it is important for people with disabilities to believe in themselves instead of focusing on the negative perceptions of society. She says Tembo’s actions are an indication that time has come for them to empower themselves.
“It means people with disabilities can do anything in life. They should not be discriminated in our communities. On TV I saw a woman without hands knitting a jersey for her kid. This means that people with disabilities can help in the community.”
In 2008, member countries of the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. All of them, including Zimbabwe, have ratified the convention which states that people with disabilities should have equal opportunity, right of access and participation without any discrimination.
The way people with disabilities are being treated in developing countries is contrary to the convention.