At times in my quietest moments when I look back where I have come from I sometimes shudder to imagine what my life would have been if God had not given me the kind of mother that I had.
My mother was one of the special breed of mothers who was both a disciplinarian and very pragmatic, someone who looked at a challenge head-on. You see when I was struck by polio at an early age of four which left me immobile, she did not lose heart. She was courageous enough to approach the Head Master of the local Primary School for me to start school at a time when many mothers did not see the wisdom of sending a disabled child to school.
It was not surprising when the Head Master refused and argued that the school could not handle the needs of a disabled child and suggested instead that I be sent to a specialized school. This, my parents could not afford. The following year it was the same story but I was only accepted after the third attempt when a new Head Master was posted to the school.
At school, I faced some initial problems when I was adjusting to the new environment until I eventually fitted into the school system where eventually I was made one of the school prefects.
After completing my primary education I was selected to the secondary school where I went as far as the third form when my parents returned from Zimbabwe back home to Malawi. When I arrived home I was not able to get enrolled at any secondary school because of rigid regulations by the then government.
So I was forced to study through distance education which saw me pass my ‘O’ level examination with grades that were pre-requisites for University entry but I was refused due to my disability-that was the most painful moment and a turning point in my life.
This was the point in my life that I vowed to fight against such discrimination that so that this social injustice should not be meted to the new generation of disabled children.
After failure to proceed with education, my attempts to get a job proved futile and my life was in a quandary. It was at the point in time that I met a man who changed my outlook to life. Victor was severely disabled that he needed assistance to be fed, clothed and had to be propped up in his wheelchair.
What struck me about Victor was that inspite of severe disability; he oozed bundles of self confidence and produced wonderful paintings using his mouth which he sold to lots of art lovers both in and outside the country.
Victor was a role model who lived with his wife and a kid and employed some assistants. I had never imagined that a person with such severe disability could live and successfully manage both a family and a business.
I was instantly inspired and I worked under his tutelage for almost one year. Luckily, during my school days I used to do some drawings so I quickly adapted. He introduced me to an area whose scope in terms of imagination and creativity was limitless.
Art created great opportunities for me as someone with disability and assisted me in meeting many people from various backgrounds. After my stint with Victor I started my own art career which saw mount various exhibitions both inside and outside the country.
My art pieces were bought to grace many hotels including the State House at one point. One piece was bought by Mrs. Shriver, a sister to President Kennedy of the US at the exhibition in Taipei, Republic of China. Art is a very important medium in terms of creating a sense of self worth and self expression and can be a used as a strong tool for the empowerment of persons with disabilities.
I am fundraising and working on a project to build a craft village which will promote artistic expression for both persons with disabilities and those without. The village will also be used to assist to militate against stigmatization that is attached to disability by showcasing abilities rather than disabilities.
SAFOD Director General
Adapted from Mussa Chiwaula’s Blog, 17th March 2009