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Zimbabwe, December 2014: Breaking the silence: The story of Tapuwa

© UNICEF 2014
Tapuwa says she would like to be a doctor and help all the other children who have hearing impairment and she says this has been made possible by the availability of a hearing aid that has broken her silence.

By Richard Nyamanhindi

Discrimination against hearing-impaired children is declining in Zimbabwe’s Eastern city of Mutare in Manicaland Province, says Libby Foster, the headmistress of Nzeve Centre for the Deaf. “We started the school when we discovered that there was an increased number of children with hearing impairment who were hidden away and not going to school,” she says.

“These days, we have more and more children coming to the school as there is no other school in the city that caters for children with hearing impairments,” continues Ms. Foster. The situation is much improved,” she adds.

The school now has 60 pupils, but Ms. Foster deals daily with the prejudice and pain that can surround disability. “It is common for the father to blame the child’s mother,” she says. “I spend time dealing with disputes in families when, in fact, what I want to get across is the importance of not isolating this child, of bringing him or her into the centre of the family.”

Her message has been picked up loud and clear by Tapuwa’s brother in law Godfrey Mugodoki aged 53, an electrician who lives with Tapuwa and her other siblings following the loss of their parents a few years ago. Last year, Mr. Mugodoki and his wife Future attended sign language classes at Nzeve School of the Deaf, where Tendai was trained and received a hearing aid that enabled her to attend conventional school.

Orphaned young

Tapuwa was orphaned at the age of 5 and lived a very challenging life with future, her older sister. Life only changed when her sister got married to Godfrey. Tapuwa’s household is adjacent to a busy railway line, and are not connected to the electricity and water grid. The family shares the few rooms they have with another family, so there are always a dozen children milling around. Godfrey takes care of a number of other orphans from his side of the family – a result of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Asked who her best friend is among her siblings, Tapuwa points to Future. They have been through thick and thin together since their parents passed on and in addition Future can now sign.

Like many children in poor communities in Zimbabwe, Tapuwa has a range of chores assigned to her. It’s a matter of pride in the family that she, like the others, runs errands, does laundry and even walks up to five kilometers to get some water from a municipality water point.

The strong bond between Tapuwa and Future is evident. “After our parents passed on we became so close, she did not hear anything and I used to take care of her always,” says Future.

The school day begins

Every morning, Tapuwa walks to school which is about 8 kilometres away. To get there on time she has to leave home before six in the morning. This means she has to wake-up three hours before, in order to have gone to the water point and fetch water for herself and the other children.

The school’s playgrounds and immaculately maintained classrooms are filled with other young people who now accept Tapuwa as one of their own since she received her hearing aid from an innovations company based in Botswana called Deaftronics.

Deaftronics in supporting hearing impaired children with affordable solar charged hearing aids – a rare situation in most African countries. The hearing aids cost about $300 and come with two solar charged batteries. Most families, including Tapuwa’s cannot afford non-rechargeable batteries that cost between $5 and $10 a month.    

Big dreams

Ms. Libby Foster says 90 per cent of the pupils at Nzeve School of Hope are survivors of meningitis – an inflammation of the protective membranes of the spine and brain. Meningitis vaccination campaigns have been stepped up in recent years.

Ms. Foster says more needs to be done for children such as Tapuwa in orer to give them an opportunity in life. “The situation in Zimbabwe is similar to other developing countries. We do not really know how many disabled children there are.”

“Even today, many children with disabilities are hidden or are on the street. Yet, they have the same rights [as all children]. We have to identify them. We have support their families, their communities.

“Children should be at school. They should be able to play together, to grow and to become citizens,” she says.

Tapuwa says she would like to be a doctor and help all the other children who have hearing impairment and she says this has been made possible by the availability of a hearing aid that has broken her silence.

 

 
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