Zimbabwe: Para-Athlete Using Sport to Fight Discrimination

STAR para-athlete Stellah Jongwe rolls her wheelchair back and forth before steadying up.

She suddenly wears a wide smile on her beautiful face, ready to pour her heart out...

"I was born different with a disability called Phocomelia which briefly explains the half legs I have," she begins and then pauses.

A brief silence follows.

She seems absorbed in deep thoughts, head on her shoulder.

The smile has disappeared but not her beauty.

She was called names growing up with the condition in Mt Darwin.

Some of the words still rings on top of her mind.

"Half-person, half-bread, Jojo . . . those were my names...

"I was told even the doctors wanted to burn me because of my condition when I was still an infant but my mother, Elizabeth Manyawi, wouldn't let that happen under her nose," she said.

Her father wouldn't survive to see her grow as he died when Stellah was barely five weeks old.

"That left my mother with a huge weight on her shoulders... "

Finding a place for ECD wasn't easy and when she eventually enrolled at Bungwe Primary School, walking to school was a struggle.

That prompted the school authorities to recommend her for enrolment at Jairos Jiri in Harare.

All was well when she started her Grade One at the popular Harare institution in 2008 until a year later when her mother developed some mental health problems which she suffers from up to this day.

"My world crumbled under my feet. I had no reason to live either. It was so hard, I had nowhere to turn to. My hopes, dreams, everything evaporated.

"It was my maternal grandfather who, at least, showed me reason to live, he supported me in everything l did.

"School wasn't a good place for me too with my fellows also calling me those denigrating names.

"l would cry non-stop. It was hell... "

That is how Stellah realised she had to partake in sport where she felt she would excel and at least silence the discording bullies.

"I was in Grade Three when I decided to engage in sport and arts not because I had the passion but just to show that I was, after all, good in those things.

"I was everywhere, doing every activity at school, playing marimba, mbira, dance, public speaking, wheelchair basketball, tennis, everything... That is how I honed my different sporting skills." Academically, Jongwe was doing good as well clinching six Ordinary Levels in 2018 and even got a place at Harare Polytechnic College but she has not yet started her programme due to lack of funds.

She wrote her first sporting success story in 2020 when she scooped gold at the Outeniqua Chair Challenge held in South Africa, the same year she won her first CBZ Marathon women's wheelchair race gold medal.

And three weeks ago, she retained the CBZ Marathon gold medal right on the heels of what she terms her major success when scooping bronze in the African para-badminton championships held in Uganda late last year.

"I am a happy someone now. I can see the direction I am going. I would like to thank all Zimbabweans for the support they are giving me in my sporting endeavours.

"I was inspired by Elliot Mujaji (former paralympian).

"My dream now is to reach the 2024 Paralympics to be held in Peru. I am working towards that goal and I am praying hard to see that through."

Jongwe's ultimate prayer is that her mother be healed and see her excel in her sporting endeavours. She also wishes to go ahead with her education as she aims to defy her condition in more ways than one.

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