BY PRIVILEGE GUMBODETE
If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
This cliché perfectly captures Zimbabwe’s first Child President with a disability, 17-year-old Hazel Mandaza from Mahusekwa High School in Marondera.
After battling discrimination and stigma due to her physical challenges, Mandaza has become a beacon of hope for people with disabilities and women who have found it difficult to break the patriarchal glass ceiling.
Mandaza, born on June 28, 2004, stays in Mahusekwa with her family.
The second born in a family of three suffers from paralysis, the loss of voluntary muscle function in one or more parts of the body, as a result of damage to the nervous system.
Most teenagers in Mandaza’s shoes often find it difficult to harness strength from negativity and usually prefer to stay invisible in their safe havens.
Children with disabilities usually miss many opportunities and are vulnerable to violence and abuse.
Research shows that they are also marginalised.
But for Mandaza, that is where she draws her strength.
“Disability is not inability,” is her daily motto, she said.
“I am physically challenged. Some of the challenges I face is discrimination. I have overcome it through believing in myself and just telling myself that I don’t need someone to believe or like me, but just doing it for myself first,” Mandaza told NewsDay.
“The fact that there has never been a Child President with a disability made me run for it. I aspire to change the perspective of society on people with disabilities and promote the empowerment of young people.”
According to the Primary and Secondary Education ministry annual statistics report of 2014, the prevalence of in-school children with impairments was 34 734.
This figure increased to 52 232 in 2016, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund.
Mandaza’s aspirations were not just a gimmick to attract cheap propaganda and sympathy, she said.
In her speech during the official opening of the 29th Junior Parliament of Zimbabwe at State House in Harare on Monday, Mandaza said: “As a person with a disability, you have dared to unchain me, you have dared to be brave. It is time to have a vibrant, robust law on disability.”
Mandaza said having robust laws on disability would narrow the gap between those living with disabilities and the able-bodied.
“Those with disabilities, please believe in yourself, don’t wait for others to do that for you, the sky is the limit. Don’t let the disability you are living with be your limitation, but let it rather be your strength,” the Junior President told NewsDay.
Without doubt, Zimbabwe needs more people like Mandaza who break societal limitations that hold back marginalised groups.