Women who found ability in disability

Tuesday January 21 2020

Women who found ability in disability-discrimination, stigma - marginalisation-orphans- people with disabilities-

Coast Association for Persons Living with Disabilities (CAPWD) Executive Director Ms Hamisa Zaja. PHOTO I COURTESY 

By Hellen Nachilongo

The main challenge facing people living with disability in most African countries including Tanzania is double discrimination, stigma and marginalisation but yet they are also at the forefront of change.

Apart from that, a majority in the community think that they [the physically impaired] cannot contribute to the development of the country.

A Makumbusho Secondary School teacher, Ms Sophia Mbyeyela in an interview with Success stated that though it is difficult for people with disability to attain their dreams due to several challenges they face, with commitment they can still attain their dreams.

Mbeyela, also a person living with disability, said it was not easy for her to reach where she is today due to her physical limitations, “I was committed to make sure I achieve my dreams and did not let anyone or anything stop me,” she said.

“Most of the people in my community thought I would lose hope and I will not reach anywhere. But thank God my parents have always been there for me and teachers in the school that I went encouraged me and enabled achieve my dreams.

Mbeyela still remembers the times when people would say horrible things to her, calling her all sorts of names in a bid to demotivate her.


Regardless of the mockery, she remained unfazed and focused on achieving her dreams.

Mbeyela, who during her spare time does charity work, says after completing her Bachelor of Education degree there were a lot of doubts from her family on how she’d manage to teach.

She however, assured them that everything would be fine.

Mbeleya wears many hats, apart from teaching she is also involved in doing charity work by giving back to the community, a trait inspired by her mother. She is also a motivational speaker. “Most of the time several organizations invite me to give motivational speeches to different groups such as orphans, people with disabilities, youth and women,” she says.

“Disability is not inability,” are the words said by Hamisa Zaja, 48, a person living with disability.

Zaja was born without any disability, but before she celebrated her first birthday she was diagnosed with high fever. After an injection, the illness left her with one leg paralyzed.

She recollects that when time came for her to stand and walk she could not do it by herself. “Due to my culture, growing up my family and the community that surrounded me considered me a person living with disability,” she says.

She adds; “In my culture we normally have a system of marrying cousins, close family friends and marrying people within the community. In this case my community and relatives never matched me with any man to marry me, because of my disability.”

Zaja, Founder and Executive Director of Coast Association for Persons Living with Disabilities (CAPWD) based in Mombasa, says though her family never considered her as an integral part of the family, she decided to use her disability to invest her life’s focus in education to prove to the community that she could be anyone she wants in life.

She revealed this to Success recently at the Bodily Autonomy and Integrity Series dubbed ‘African feminist rethinking on Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights’ (SRHR) meeting which was held in Zambia.

The meeting, organised by the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (Femnet) in collaborations with Non-governmental Organization Gender Organization Coordinating Council (NGOCC) brought representatives from Civil Society Organization (CSOs) and some journalists from countries like Liberia, Kenya, Rwanda, Mozambique, Tanzania and host-nation Zambia.

Zaja, a graduate with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management, says she never focused on who will marry her, but rather had her eyes set on succeeding in life and setting up an organization to help other people living with disabilities.

The Kenyan national says through collaborating with her government, international organizations and donors she has managed to implement several projects in her community.

She has also managed to train youth, women living with disability and created employments for more than 400 people.

“After receiving funds, I built a fees-paying toilet, some of the people who underwent the training were each given capital for their businesses,” she said.

With the need to help other people attain their career goals, Zaja also provides training to youth in areas such as hair dressing, juice making, hotel management, and after they are given capital to open and run the business.

She said that she will continue to work with people in need of help to manage their daily lives. The job does not only involve helping them identify opportunities around them but also understand and adapt to disability and to obtain social services like health care, government assistance and legal aid.

A wife and mother of two children, for her education Zaja went to Port Ritz School for the Physically Handicapped and Mama Ngina Girls’ Secondary School, she also has a Diploma in Community Development.

She says that inclusion of people with disabilities into everyday activities involves practices and policies designed to identify and remove barriers such as physical, communication, and attitudinal, that hamper individuals’ ability to have full participation in society,.

Femnet executive director Memory Kachambwa told Success that resourcing feminism policies and rights that would help disabilities, children, youth and women should be a priority for Africa to progress.