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Young Zimbabwean featured in 'Music by Prudence' champions disability rights

© Errol Webber/2010
Prudence Mabhena, 23, and her band, Liyiana, are featured in the Oscar-winning film 'Music by Prudence'.

NEW YORK, USA, 15 June 2010 – The second Millennium Development Goal calls for universal primary education for all boys and girls, and Article 23 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child says that all children with disabilities have the right to special care and support so they can live full and independent lives. But for many children with diabilities in developing countries – especially in rural areas – few opportunities for education are accessible.

UNICEF Radio recently spoke with Prudence Mabhena, 23, about growing up with a disability in rural Zimbabwe and her work to promote disability rights for children worldwide.

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Ms. Mabhena was born with a debilitating condition called arthrogryposis, which is characterized by contracted joints. Her personal story is featured in the Oscar-winning documentary film, ‘Music by Prudence’, which highlights the stigmatization and exclusion of children with disabilities, as well as the need to empower them.

‘I used to cry’

“In Africa, when a child is born, people celebrate,” said Ms. Mabhena. “When a baby with a disability is born, people cry. There is a lot of shouting, insults, and some believe that maybe the baby was bewitched."

© Errol Webber/2010
Prudence Mabhena and her band, Liyana, which started as a class project at King George VI School in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, the country's only secondary education facility for children with disabilities.

In such cases, there is sometimes pressure from family members to stop caring for the child – even to let the child die. When Ms. Mabhena was born, her paternal grandmother asked her mother to do just that. But her mother refused and, as a result, was kicked out of the house. She brought the baby to live in the rural home of her own family of origin.

After a few years, Ms. Mabhena’s mother left her in the care of her maternal grandmother, who raised young Prudence for most of the rest of her childhood and adolescence.

“I didn’t know there were [other] people with disabilities,” recalled Ms. Mabhena. “I used to cry and ask my grandmother what was wrong with me.”

Specialized school

Eventually, Ms. Mabhena got a scholarship to attend the King George VI, a specialized school for students with disabilities in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The school provides rehabilitation and boarding facilities to children with physical disabilities and hearing impairments.

Some 280 students come from across the country to attend primary and secondary school at King George VI, which has the only secondary education facility for children with disabilities in Zimbabwe. About 80 per cent of the students’ families cannot afford the school fees; instead, they must depend on scholarships and financial aid.

And these children are among the most fortunate. According to the National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped – the umbrella body for voluntary groups organized by and for people with disabilities in Zimbabwe – only a third of the country’s children with disabilities have any access to education.

A story of inspiration

“When I went to King George VI, I found that there are other people with disabilities who are just like me, and I felt like I’m at home,” said Ms. Mabhena. “I have a family at King George.”

When she was growing up, Ms. Mabhena’s grandmother sang to her often, instilling in her a love of music. At King George VI, her talents as a singer were quickly discovered. She soon became the head of her school choir and the lead singer in a band, Liyana, that she and her friends formed.

“I’m independent, I’m wiser…. I’m inspired,” she said of the experience. “I feel like I’m a hero at King George VI.” That story of inspiration is at the heart of ‘Music by Prudence’.




2 June 2010: Prudence Mabhena speaks about growing up with a disability in Zimbabwe and her work to promote disability rights worldwide.
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Hear samples of Prudence's band, Liyana.
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