In this heartwarming story, Nyasha Chizororo meets her namesake, Nyasha, a child with a severe disability.
Almost every evening on my way home I walk past a woman sitting on the pavement behind a low counter made from an upended cardboard box on which she has slotted used air time scratch cards. Next to her lies a child. It is clear that he has a physical disability. Like most other yuppies I am self-absorbed and I tend not to register scenes of desolation that I come across unless I am on some trendy do-good drive. As Phil Collins put it across, it is just another day for you and me in paradise.
One day last month I left work much later than usual and for some reason I just could not walk past. I stopped and greeted the woman.
"Hesi," the young boy smiles at me then immediately hides his face in his mother's lap.
His mother smiles at me and tells me that I am very lucky because her son normally does not talk to strangers and certainly does not make such overt friendly gestures.
The other side
"Can I talk to you? I pass by here every day and I see you with your son. I am a writer and with your permission I would like to share your story with others," I ask her.
At her invitation I sit on some cardboard boxes on the pavement and realise that it is a different street from that perspective. I feel the despair that must envelope this woman as people walk past without glancing at her and her son. They have become inured to the sights of suffering on the streets. In my 100 percent linen shift dress, pearls and fancy matching bag and shoes I must present quite a sight as I sit there on the street. I attract a few curious glances, but people move on.
Her name is Patricia Manyanga and she is 38 years old. She sits outside Spar First Street everyday from around 9 in the morning until around 7 pm when she then goes home to Epworth.
Half full glass
I am struck by the cheerfulness of the woman. She tells me about her son. Nyasha Manyanga has made astonishing progress in the past three months. He has learnt to sit up and crawl. His mother is overjoyed and thinks this is a miracle. Hers is not the natural wonder and pride that fills a parent each time they watch their child reach a milestone. For Nyasha is 18 years old although his body could belong to a three year old.
"I realised that there was something wrong with Nyasha when he was still very young. By the time he turned three he was not active like other kids. He could not even lift his head and never rolled like other infants. Even when changing or bathing him, he would be so flaccid. So I took him to the clinic and they referred me to the hospital where I was told that he has cerebral palsy."
For almost 17 years Patricia has cared for Nyasha with no hope that he would ever be able to do something as simple as sitting up on his own. So any achievement on his part is amplified.
His recent progress has been due to some Asian man who has been running a clinic at Tuchi in Epworth. He took on Nyasha's case Pro Deo.
Parenting a child with a disability
Patricia's husband died while her two kids were still young. Nyasha has a younger sister who wrote her grade seven last year. Her in-laws did not want anything to do with Patricia and her children once her husband passed away. They made it clear that the rejection was because of Nyasha's condition. There are many superstitions associated with children who are born with disabilities inlcuding the belief that the parents would have dabbled in some charms to attract wealth while sacrificing their child in the process.
But Patricia accepted that as what life had dished out and set out to do the best that she could for Nyasha which has not been enough, she believes.
"When the nurses said he had cerebral palsy they told me that he would need physiotherapy when he was older. But the money has just never been there. I took him to Danhiko a few times. But not enough to make a difference."
Patricia has had to balance Nyasha's needs with other responsibility. She needs to earn the family's daily bread and also get school fees and other things for her daugher.
"Paying fees for my daughter is not easy. Often she is out of school which affects her performance. Right now she should go to form 1 but I have not been able to put together the resources so she is back in grade seven," Patricia said.
"At least when my husband was alive, he would earn money so I could concentrate on Nyasha. That was when I took him for physiotherapy. Maybe if his father was here the boy could have attended one of the schools for children with special needs," she said.
But he is not here and Patricia makes do as best she can.
Hand to mouth existence
Selling air time is not a very lucrative business and she rarely manages to make a profit of $10 a day.
"I do not want to sit here begging. I want to work for my children. Not that I am not grateful to those who assist me. I received a secondhand wheelchair from a wellwisher and it has helped me over the past few months as I did not have to carry Nyasha on my back which is quite onerous. But now it is broken down and another one would come in handy.
She has to keep a tight watch on her capital so that she always has enough to buy wholesale scratch cards. There is never enough to put together start up capital for a different living.
"If I could put together enough to start up something like a chicken rearing business, I would be glad. At least I would not have to raise Nyasha on the streets and maybe I would be able to give him a better life.
"Right now I just get enough to feed the children, pay the rent and put something towards school fees," Patricia sums up her life.
What can one individual do?
At the end of our talk I feel inadequate as I give Patricia $10 and tell her to buy Nyasha some disposable nappies. She calls upon God to bless me a million times. But I know that the money will hardly make a difference. What can one individual without much money do? The Government of Zimbabwe needs to make serious social welfare provisions for young people like Nyasha. Civil society organisations also need to focus on urban poverty because the rural areas do not have a monopoly on suffering.