Sr. Pelagia Siziba OP
Deaf Women Included (DWI) is a grassroots organization that works with deaf women from across all provinces in Zimbabwe. It was founded in 2010 by Agnes Chindimba a deaf and disability rights activist; also the founder of Deaf Women Zimbabwe; a former student and a former teacher at Emerald Hill School for the Deaf. This organization was born after Agnes had observed that women with disabilities were absent from making decisions in the communities they lived; they were not represented at important meetings and conferences that often impacted on their lives. Agnes is a vibrant, self-driven woman who has become a sparkling example of triumph over adversity. She pointed out that she owes profound gratitude to all people have contributed to what she is today, especially Sr. Tariro Chimanyiwa OP, all the Dominican sisters and many other people of good will. Agnes travels around Zimbabwe making encounters with women and girls with disabilities empowering them to realize their full potential.
At the initial stages of her organization, Agnes worked tirelessly to make Deaf Women Included known by hosting meetings of deaf and hearing women leaders, (sometimes men too) and from their ideas and their needs, ‘Deaf Women Included’ (DWI) was born in 2010. Since then, it has grown from strength to strength and has become one of the top organizations that advocate for equal rights for deaf women and children with disabilities in Zimbabwe.
Some aspects of the Vision of Deaf Women Included (DWI):
- An inclusive society in which deaf women and girls are considered full citizens
- Deaf women and girls to enjoy the same human rights as anybody else
- Deaf women and girls to participate fully in all aspects of family and community
The mission of the organization is to empower deaf women and girls to claim access to information, health services, education; employment opportunities and to influence government, private sector and civil society to take the rights of deaf women and children into account in policy making and implementation.
The 12th of November 2020 was a memorable day for the Zhombe community, situated 58 kilometres outside Kwekwe. This community had the honor and the priviledge to welcome the Deaf Women Included (DWI) for the first time. Agnes Chindimba-Chidemo, Lovemore Chidemo (Agnes’ husband), Onai Hara (sign language interpreter), and Norman Mutete (sign language) interpreter) and Sr. Pelagia Siziba OP spent some time at Gomola Clinic interacting with the community in Zhombe in an effort to assess the needs of women and children with disabilities in the community. The team spent 4hrs of lively interactions and engagement with the community leadership including chiefs, headmen, Village Health Workers, the Councilor for the constituency, Church leaders and school heads. Women with disabilities and the parents of children with disabilities also came to learn how they can represent themselves. Calisto Siziba and Sr. Muwani, the Nurse in Charge at Gomola Clinic had gone round the village inviting people to attend this crucial meeting, the first of its kind in Zhombe.
Agnes and Lovemore shared with the participants that the people with disabilities need to be treated with dignity and respect and that they must be accorded the same rights like everyone else. They gave an example of their own lives and their success stories that they were afforded an opportunity to go to school, to play and interact with other children freely. Every child and every human being needs to socialize with others regardless of their disability. Agnes strongly discouraged separating children with disabilities from others because they will eventually live in a community and society with the rest of humankind. He said, it was important for children living with diability to start learning to live together in the same community and society from the time one is born.
Agnes gave a brief history of her life in order to demonstrate that disability does not mean inability:
- She was born and grew up in Zvishavane and attended Primary school there
- She got deaf when she was 12 years old
- Attended Secondary School at Emerald Hill School for the Deaf
- She did O Level studies and did Lower 6 and Upper 6 at St. John’s High School, in Emerald Hill, Harare
- She holds a BA with Honors Degree in English and has a Graduate Diploma in Education from the University of Zimbabwe,
- She holds a Masters Degree in Educational Management, Leadership and Development from Africa University.
- She is married to Lovemore Chidemo, the two had a beautiful wedding more than 10 years ago and is a mother of two
- She taught at Emerald Hill School for the Deaf; and next to her teaching job, she coordinated the team that translated the National Constitution into Sign Language in 2018.
- Agnes is an activist in human rights, leadership, has done research in inclusive education, Feminism and disability, sexual reproductive health and access to information.
- She is a Mandela Washington Fellow (2016), on the Board of various nonprofits working on disability rights and access in Zimbabwe
- She has over 17 years’ experience of working with deaf children and young women and disabilities.
- Agnes pointed out that every community must be sensitive to the needs of people with disabilities because life is not easy when one is deaf or has any form of disability. She herself sees her deafness more as a ‘calling’ than a handicap.
- Agnes has committed herself to advocating for other deaf people in Zimbabwe whom she says are particularly vulnerable in decision making and inclusion in communities they live.
- She shared that she has taken a number of initiatives across the country to ensure inclusion for deaf and people with disabilities to help them to become a part of the larger community and not be left behind.
- Agnes and her husband Lovemore Chidemo (also deaf) shared that there are times when they face discrimination, misunderstanding and occasional hostility. Such experiences have motivated them to fight for the rights of the vulnerable.
- Agnes shared that when she was an undergraduate student at the University of Zimbabwe she was the only deaf student at the whole university. It was there she experienced simply because she was deaf. Her lecturer doubted her capability and made his bias clear in front of the whole class.
- The experience of discrimination first made her feel very angry because of the stigma attached to disability but then she later realized some people simply need to be taught to respect people with disabilities. That is when she learnt to advocate for herself and all those whose voices are not listened to.
“Until the rights and dignity of all women and children with disabilities have been achieved no one is safe!” Agnes Chindimba 2020
The story of Lovemore Chidemo (husband of Agnes)
Lovemore Chidemo is the Finance Consultant of Deaf Women Included (DWI). He was a Corporate Financial Analyst for Regatta Financial Advisory Services for over 10 years. The people in Zhombe were keen to hear the testimonies of people living with disabilities who have made it in life.
- Lovemore Chidemo was born in Gutu in Chiwara village, Zimbabwe
- Lovemore got deaf when he was a teenager in school and this distressed his parents
- The family tried to take him to various hospitals and also spiritual healers and ‘prophets’. All these efforts came to nothing because Lovemore’s deafness had become permanent.
- Thank God his parents remained loving, supportive and encouraging in every way. They insisted that he remain in school, learning with hearing children and he participated in everything that the other children were doing. He loved school, enjoyed playing with other children and performed well in school.
- He holds a Masters of Philosophy and Disability Rights in Africa from the University of Pretoria, and has a Masters of Science in Finance & Investment from the National University of Science and Technology.
- He holds a Bachelors of Accountancy from the University of Zimbabwe.
- He is actively involved in program design, program management, and creating dynamic videos and media to advocate for disability rights and inclusion.
- He is also the Founder and Executive Director of the Zimbabwe Deaf Media Trust providing comprehensive and accurate information to the Deaf community in Sign language, and promoting Deaf culture and Sign language to demystify deafness in Zimbabwe and promote understanding and unity country wide.
- Lovemore works side by side with his wife Agnes to create awareness about deafness and develops accessible materials for the deaf communities on issues of health, community participation and education, etc…
- Lovemore was a member of the National Constitution Translation Committee that translated the Zimbabwean Constitution into Sign Language in 2018.
- He also taught Zimbabwean Sign Language at Great Zimbabwe University and worked on a team that is developing an inclusive Early Childhood Development (ECD) syllabus for deaf learners in Zimbabwe.
- Together with his wife, they have conducted training programs, fundraised to help deaf women and children with disabilities get educated, have access to information and at times help them to start small businesses for self-sustenance where possible.
In a discussion, the participants shared openly WHY they sometimes hide their disabled children from interacting with other people in the community:
- They fear that the children with disabilities might be harmed by others, laughed at or ill-treated. So parents do not dare to let these children play with others, let alone send them to school.
- Sometimes anger at God who gave them a child with disabilities,
- The temptation to suspect that a neighbor or a relative caused the disability,
- Often fear to be laughed at by others or that the husband will divorce them
- Fear that their child will be sexually harassed and abused.
- Fear of being accused of having used ‘juju’ to be rich that is suspected to have caused the disability.
- Too poor to afford, e.g. wheelchairs, special creams for those with conditions like albinism or other needs for people with special needs or disabilities.
- Lack of courage to dare send a child with disabilities to an ordinary school
- Sometimes it is seen a waste of resources because there are fewer chances of employment for a person with disabilities.
The Zhombe community listened to Agnes and Lovemore with keen interest and some kind of surprise at their achievements. One little girl said to them, “I see that God’s guiding light has led you to us; you are such selfless people with BIG AND GOLDEN HEARTS”
Using posters to illustrate her points, Agnes said this to the people:
- It is more difficult for people with Disabilities to report Gender Based Violence (GBV) where the perpetrators are often their support persons.
- People with disabilities are often unable to respond to and report abuse and violence against them due to limited communication capacity or inability to move outside home.
- Research has revealed that 1 in 10 girls with disabilities experience some form of sexual abuse and violence before they reach adulthood.
The lessons that the Zhombe community picked from this encounter:
- The community needs to have a system that allows reports of abuse to be made privately and confidentially since persons with disabilities are at high risk of domestic violence, sexual harassment, physical abuse, discrimination and victimization.
- The village Head and other community leaders to set up Committees meet from time to time to evaluate how the awareness campaigns against Genda Based Violence (GBV)are impacting on the community especially women and children with disabilities
- To create an inclusive response and fight Gender Based Violence (GBV) against women with disabilities through awareness.
- To provide accessible monitoring and reporting mechanisms to guard against GBV
- To set up clear and non-threatening reporting structures that work towards combating and eradicating GBV.
- To work closely in fighting GBV, e.g. engage governments and Policy makers through the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), Neighborhood Watch, schools, health workers, business people, church leaders, chiefs, Headmen and other community leaders.
- To set up Strategic Committees where the community can push for the needs and rights of women and children with disabilities.
- There need to support and invest in the children with disabilities by giving some form of education in order to empower them
Comments of appreciation from the participants:
- The village Headman Mr. Luke Mabanti stood up to thank the presenters for the lively interactions and open sharing between the presenters and the participants. He added that he had never experienced such an encounter in his village since he had become the Headman. He was truly grateful for this unique experience.
- An 80 year old ambuya Juliana Mugombi stood up and sung a song of gratitude after which she pointed out that this experience has opened her eyes to a new way of thinking, she now sees possibilities for her 6 year old granddaughter who is deaf.
- Mrs. Raviro Mbano who has 16 year old daughter with disabilities said, “God’s ways are wonderful, today I saw the hand of God in these people who visited us. They are deaf but their love, thoughtfulness and big hearts almost made me forget that they are deaf. How I wish I could share with the whole village what I witnessed today”.
- Sharon Gurajena, a 14 year old girl with albinism stood up to thank Agnes and Lovemore and hoped that one day the future will open up doors for her; that opportunities will come her way if God wills it.
- She added that she almost forgot that Lovemore and Agnes were deaf because they interacted joyfully, clearly, with conviction and compassion. She hoped that one day she would be like them.
- Sarudzai Manyago, a young woman with a brother who is deaf said that she almost forgot that these presenters were deaf because Onai Hara a Sign language interpreter, working under Deaf Women Included and Norman……., were excellent in interpreting sign language. She added that all the people understood everything so clearly, there was no communication barrier”.
- Like a joyous choir, some women just stood up and spontaneously sung, danced and ululated singing, “Chiedza chenyika chauya”, meaning, “The light of the world has come among us”.
- Sithabile Sithole, a 29 year old woman with the disabilities shared that she often does not enjoy the same rights as others because the community seems to believe women with disabilities cannot make choices of their own and need someone to think for them.
- The headman added that people with disabilities suffer a lot of discrimination and even experience more gender-based violence, particularly because most of them depend on their abusers for a living.
- Through the telling of their own life stories Agnes and Lovemore encouraged the participants to ensure that there is inclusion of people with disabilities in all academic, social, political, religious, and economic programs in Zhombe community and beyond.
- This initiative by Lovemore and Agnes has brought enlightenment, possible dreams and hope future for people living with disabilities in Zhombe community.
Hope for the future for children with disabilities in Zhombe:
- Deaf Women Included hopes engage the community leaders, fundraise and to establish ‘Model Schools’ for inclusion that can benefit children with disabilities in their own communities as it is hard for rural parents to afford special schools.
- Deaf Women Included hopes to build resilient communities where children with disabilities are supported by their own communities and be part of community development and contribute to those communities socially, spiritually, physically, and economically.