12 January 2019

Zimbabwe: A Soccer Player Without Legs

Not even disability can stop him from following his passion. With no legs, he competes with other boys of his age in social soccer matches. They all fight to have him in their team.

Just like his name, Special Mupedzapasi, is indeed a special boy who has not let disability stop his love for the beautiful game of soccer. The 13-year-old from Guvheya village under chief Chisunga in Mbire, Mashonaland Central loves soccer and his dream is to own a solar powered television set where he can often watch international soccer matches.

"I love soccer and that is what I do in my past time. I play soccer at break time and even during lunch time at school. I have accepted who I am and the fact that I am alive is the greatest gift. I play soccer using my hands and I can move very fast even when am not using the wheelchair," he says with confidence.

A Grade 3 pupil at Kanongo Primary School in Mbire district at 13 due to late enrolment as a result of the disability, loves school and cannot afford to miss a day.

An orphan, Special stays with his elder sister and her in-laws whose overwhelming love has kept him going.

His sister Miriam Kapururira concurs that her brother loves soccer adding that at first she was sceptical about his love for soccer fearing that because of the disability he might be hurt by other pupils during matches as she shares the story of Special with The Saturday Lifestyle.

Special lost both his lower limbs when he was just 2 weeks old as a result of fire with his family saying the circumstances of the fire remains a mystery to them.

"He is the last child in a family of nine and because our mother died when he was only two-months-old, I had to take care of him like my own baby.

"When I got married, my in-laws allowed me to bring him with me and that was such a relief. So he is part of the family, my husband and his mother are very supportive of him.

"As he grew up I realised that he loved playing soccer but I feared that he might just get hurt given his condition.

"I later on noticed that he was a hyper active child who would not let even disability stand in his way," she says.

"He enrolled very late at school due to the disability. The closest school then had no facilities to cater for his needs but it was later developed and made it disability friendly.

" I remember one school teacher visiting us to tell us that they got donors who refurbished the school to cater for people with disabilities like Special hence they wanted him to come to school.

"So he enrolled for Grade 1 when he was 9 years-old. The school also got a wheelchair for him from donors and we are forever grateful for their support," chronicles Miriam.

Apart from home, school is one of Special's haven where he has been accepted and says he feels the love as other pupils have allowed him to play soccer using his hands.

"At first I would watch them playing soccer from my wheelchair and would jump with excitement due to my love for the game. That is when the pupils approached me and asked me if I wanted to join them and use my hands instead."

Special is among the pupils who benefited from the Government's Inclusive education programme that seeks to see all children living with disabilities accessing education. Through support from donor partners, Kanongo Primary School has been able to make infrastructural adaptations such as construction of ramps and disability friendly toilets as they seek to improve the environment at school making it habitable for all. Through support from Save The Children and Leonard Cheshire, pupils like Special have received wheelchairs while getting support to access quality health care services when they need it.

Project officer for Leonard Cheshire Disability Trust Zimbabwe, Martin James says Special was indeed an energetic boy despite his disability.

He said Special has embraced who he is, adding that this has helped him integrate well at school despite enrolling late at school due to several obstacles.

"He is free spirited and can do most of the things able-bodied pupils can do like playing soccer. He loves soccer and we are glad that other pupils have integrated and accepted him. Such kind of love we see in the case of Special can make the world a better place if disabled people get such love and acceptance."

James applauds the community for accepting Special especially the school pupils arguing that discrimination was the greatest challenge that the disabled face in communities.

James believes the inclusive education programme if adequately funded, could bridge the gap children with disabilities face in accessing education.

"Inclusive education programme was the best thing that ever happened to children with disabilities in Zimbabwe as most of them could not access education due to various obstacles.

"Society from time immemorial is sceptic of something 'different' and this is no different when it comes to children with disabilities. The negative attitude is even embodied in our language and it is such salient negative attitudes towards disability that makes parents hide them and they miss out on schooling. Most of the children need support to withstand glares and stares from an unforgiving society that regards disability as a curse from the gods."

Through support from Leonard Cheshire Disability Trust Zimbabwe, Special has since undergone surgery known as stump revision in December 2018 and awaits provision of prosthesis legs sometime in March this year.

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