Disability inclusive parenting programme changes lives in Zimbabwe
A disability inclusive parenting programme is replacing superstition with knowledge, skills and better access to modern healthcare in a remote Zimbabwean district
Masvingo, Zimbabwe - Convinced that his grandchild’s disability resulted from black magic, Milton Chimuti, a resident of Munetsi village in Zimbabwe’s Masvingo province, sought answers from witch hunters and other mystic figures.
“We tried everything. We went to traditional healers and prophets, and I began to blame relatives and friends whom I thought were bewitching my grandchild,” said Chimuti. The ordeal ended when a neighbour encouraged him to try a local grouping of parents and caregivers of children living with a disability.
In Mabge, a village nearby, deeply religious Patricia James believed that invisible, spiritual demons were behind her daughter’s mental health condition. So she sought the help of self-proclaimed prophets and even took her child off pills that she had earlier been given at a local hospital.
James began to lose affection for her daughter when the condition showed no signs of stopping.
“I would lock her indoors. I wanted her to be invisible,” said James.
Like Chimuti, her life and that of her daughter changed when she joined a local support group of parents and caregivers of children with disability.
“Most of them think disability is a result of witchcraft so they fight with their relatives..."
Skills, knowledge replace superstition
In rural areas that are rife with superstition, a disability inclusive parenting programme introduced by UNICEF in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare and implementing partner, the Zimbabwe Parents of Handicapped Children Association, is helping dispel myths and pushing parents and caregivers to seek modern medical assistance for children living with disability.
The programme quips parents and caregivers with skills and knowledge to take a leading role in the rehabilitation of their children. Funded by the Government of Sweden, the Government of Norway through NORAD and the Swiss Agency for Development, the intervention helps parents and caregivers to better understand disability and be able to provide appropriate care and also get support from one another.
UNICEF and its partners have empowered nearly 6,000 parents to advocate for disability inclusion in community structures such as schools and health centres through the disability inclusive parenting programme.
UNICEF has also produce a tool kit which acts as a training manual for thousands of parents and caregivers in 13 districts spread across the country.
For many parents or caregivers such as Chimuti and James, the intervention has nudged them to seek modern medical help, and also improved relations with their children.
“Each time I looked at him, I would I see a miserable object and I would always ask cry ‘But God why?’ He was like a curse,” said Chimuti, adding that he had abandoned responsibility for the child’s care to his wife.
On a recent day, the 55-year-old stood among dozens of parents and caregivers at Chivi Chengaose Children’s Stimulation Centre, where he had accompanied his10-year-old grandchild for psychomotor activities.
Chimuti, who is now a community male mobiliser, attributes his change in attitude and behaviour to support he received through the disability inclusive parenting programme, through which the centre was established.
“Coming to this centre is the best decision we took,” he said, adding: “There is a great change, even improving on his speech difficulties and mental health.”
Johannes Mushaikwa, the mental health coordinator at Chivi District Hospital, said the introduction of the disability inclusive parenting progamme “has gone a long way in improving children’s lives and reducing community conflicts” as people become more aware of how to manage their children’s conditions.
“Most of them think disability is a result of witchcraft so they fight with their relatives. Some only came to the realization that their children’s conditions are manageable after they join the parenting programme. We teach them about causes, management of the conditions and the need to come to hospital to collect medication,” said Mushaikwa, a mental health nurse of 22 years.
“Family based care is stronger. Parents now understand how to nurture and care for their children. Many of them tell us that they are seeing an improvement in relations with their children because they have become better parents,” said Mushaikwa.
James, the deeply religious parent who used to lock her daughter indoors, can testify to the progress.