Mothers of handicapped children narrate harrowing tales of neglect, stigma and discrimination

HARARE – Zimbabwean mothers taking care of their handicapped children are confronted by the daily struggles of raising children shunned by their own fathers, society and relatives as well as stigma associated with the birth of children with disability.

This they shared during a Christmas party which was held in Harare Friday for children with disabilities, their mothers and guardians.

The event, supported by the China Hunan Business Association in Zimbabwe, was held under the auspices of the Zimbabwe Parents of the Handicapped Children Association, a local NGO bringing together parents of children with disabilities.

During the event, dozens of parents and their children received donations in food items such as 10kg bag of mealie meal, a bottle of cooking oil, sugar, salt, chocolate, and candy for the kids.

The children, who are often confined to homes ostensibly to protect them from ridicule by their friends, and by parents who fear being shamed by society, were also given a feel of outside life when they were allowed to play on jumping castles and other forms of amusement provided at the Waterfalls District Office, venue for the event.

Their mothers shared harrowing experiences of being stigmatised and shunned by relatives after giving birth to what some have labelled a curse.

“Our lives are difficult. In many cases, if I want to go to work, I have no one to take care of my child. I cannot even assign my own siblings because sometimes they find it detestable to take care of a disabled child or cannot manage my child’s condition,” said Emilia Furau.

“We also do not have centres where we as parents can take our children to be taken care of during the day while we go to work.”

Under the Zimbabwe Parents of the Handicapped Children Association, mothers of children with disabilities have come up with the “parent to parent support” which allows them to empathise and help one another in taking care of their offspring.

Problems associated with raising children with disabilities are multiple.

Furau said they cannot even be accommodated in lodgings because some landlords find it repugnant to live with a disabled child in their properties.

“Our situation is made worse by that our husbands desert us as soon as they find the child born is disabled. They accuse us of bringing a curse into the family,” said Furau, who also chairs the Zimbabwe Parents of the Handicapped Children Association’s Budiriro chapter.

Theresa Makwara, who is director with the organisation, concurred, saying children with disabilities resembled people in prison.

“Most of the children with disabilities are stigmatised by their communities because of the nature and conditions of their disabilities. Today, when a child has disability, it is mostly like he or she is in prison,” she said.

Makwara, also a mother of a child with disability, said her association was formed primarily to bring together mothers taking care of their disabled children under a platform that would allow them to share experiences and invent workable solutions to their predicaments.

She thanked the Chinese business community for providing a Christmas cheer for the underprivileged children and their parents.

“The Hunan Business Association in Zimbabwe has come here to support our children with disabilities by providing Christmas gifts of which I would like to thank them so much for this opportunity and you know for quite a long time the children were not even accessing anything regarding community interaction,” she said.

Makwara said her organisation was formed in 1989 to try and leverage on the collective strength of mothers of children with disabilities to “increase our voices and visibility in terms of lobbying and advocating for the rights of our children in our communities”.

The organisation brings together 10,000 children with disabilities from across the whole country.

On Friday, more than 120 children were invited to come and partake in drinks, ice cream and enjoy time on jumping castles.

They were drawn from different parts of Harare and Chitungwiza.

During the event Friday, some Chinese medical doctors who form the 19th Chinese Medical Team in Zimbabwe also came in to land support and also provide some free medical service to the children and their parents and these included some diagnostics and administering appropriate medicines.

Jolly Zhuolin Song, who chairs the Hunan Business Association in Zimbabwe said:  ‘We were connected to this organisation by the Chinese ambassador’s wife. She said because of the family tragedy, most of them (mothers) do not have husbands. Because their children need very, very close attention, so their mothers cannot go looking for a proper job.

“Doctors also brought some medication for the children. This is just like to help because we are all doing business in Zimbabwe; so we have to give back to the society.

“We will continue talking to the association to see what they want so that we can help them.

“As chairman, I have told my members that we will emphasise more on the charity part. We will do (donations to different organisations) four times every year.

“It is our first time to donate to this organisation.”

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