From disability to ‘thisability’

….as Copota School for the Blind showcase students’ abilities

Francis Mupazviriho and Praise Mhishi, recently in Bulawayo

The 7th Edition of the National Disability Expo was held in Bulawayo last week, bringing together more than fifty organisations comprising of Government Departments, Parliament of Zimbabwe, United Nations (UN) agencies, Disabled Persons Organisations (DPOs), several academic institutions and service providers showcasing programmes, innovations and other interventions directed towards the betterment of conditions for PWDs.

This huge subscription was a big endorsement and a sign of a common purpose in disability programming, which is now departing from the traditional medical and welfare models, by focusing on the abilities of Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) more, in line with contemporary best practices.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Higher Education, Science and Technology Development Minister Prof Amon Murwira said that Government had committed itself towards the advancement of Education 5.0, by funding innovation hubs addressing the needs for assistive devices, to be used by PWDs, among other things.

 “We provided a US$50 000 grant to the Reformed Church University to start an innovation hub which produced a braille dictionary on sexual and reproductive health for the visually impaired.”

The First National Disability Expo was held in 2013 under the leadership of Rtd Brig Gen. Dr Felix Muchemwa, then Special Advisor to the President on Disability Issues.  Over the years, the event has since grown leaps and bounds, under the stewardship of the late Dr.Timothy Stamps and currently Dr Joshua Malinga.

The expo has provided a key platform for exchanging lessons on the betterment of PWD on a number of issues, which include inclusion and mainstreaming, skills development, gender based violence and employment creation.

The 2019 theme focused on the empowerment of PWDs through innovation and technology.  

The banners captured the thrust. ‘Thisability’, ‘diffability’ were some of the messages.

The growing composition of state and non-state actors was befitting given the increased calls for inclusion at the national and international level as member states head towards the fulfilment of Sustainable Development Goals.

According to the 2015 Edition of the Living Conditions Among People with Disability Household Survey, Zimbabwe has an estimated 900 000 PWDs, which constitutes around 7% of a population of 12 million people (derived from 2012 figures).

There have been increased calls for the inclusion of PWDs in line with the precepts of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Copota School: Story of triumph

Human experience provides society with rich stories littered with stories of triumph!

While the Expo provided many life-changing stories, there was one which stood out, dovetailing with the mantra of abilities as opposed to disability.

At the Expo, Margaretha Hugo School for the Blind (Copota) were the main attraction in Bulawayo.

While highly officials deliberated on policy issues regarding the disability issues, Copota School kept the event alight with their marathon star performances.

Ultimately, the school’s musical band comprising of twenty students with varying degrees of blindness, and others with albinism, managed to churn out a top-shelf performance littered with individual and collective stories of triumph.

Does wisdom not say disability is not inability?

True to that adage, the band, whose supply was led by three singers Kumbulani Mubuso (21), Thomas Mutambirwa (19) and Ownstar Munodawafa (19), brother to Munyaradzi) wowed revellers.

In the process, the gains of the new curriculum were heralded. The minefield of talent within the disability fraternity came to the fore again.

Despite having been in existence for the past six years, the band has gestated to immortality.

Mrs Kumbirai Mashava, a vocational skills teacher who has been at the institution for the past fourteen years said that Copota School is making sure that it is providing educational and extra-curricular activities, which include music.

“We have a community based programme identifying talents and skills of children in various fields, which include music, as part of our commitment to bridge the gap between academia and industry”

 “By implementing inclusive education, we are promoting skills which empowers the students, who do not end up begging for their sustenance,” she said.

“We have some children having conditions of albinism. We are teaching them to use braille from a tender age, in case they lose sight later in life,” she continued.

While the Copota students-cum entertainers ordinarily look like unassuming scholars donning the typical blue and grey uniform, the students however ignite a life unto themselves as they brace to the musical instruments, cobbling well-polished acts embodying the school’s investment in extra-curricular activities.

The group performed renditions to household Zimbabwean songs over the past forty years, and some from the hymn book of Western artists.

Kumbulani Mubuso, a form four student, who specialises in chanting the late Oliver Mtukudzi’s songs with breath-taking precision said he aspires to become a journalist later in life.

He however hinted his undying passion for music.

Then there was Thomas Mutambirwa. For the greater part he did renditions to songs by the late James Chimombe, whom he says was a favourite of his parents. His story is quite inspirational, having been born with a total visual impairment.

 “I was born totally blind and my parents took me to Parirenyatwa Hospital where I underwent an operation which partially restored my sight.”

“In 2007 I was enrolled at Copota School, where I developed an interest in music, starting off in the percussion band in elementary school before being introduced to music by Mr Obey Chiteke,” one youthful music teacher at the institution.  

Collectively however, the trio (including Ownstar Munodawafa) further performed songs from other Zimbabwean artists including Jah Prayzah, Winky D, Killer T and Baba Harare among others.

The fact that they summarised Zimbabwe’s musical epoch comprising of popular songs from legends and contemporary artists depicted the institution’s investment of time in rehearsing their acts.

As the band belted out hit after hit, the audience reciprocated in appreciation.

They marched to the table, freely depositing their monies, as the faithful do when paying tithes. 

That the band, managed to perform Aleck Macheso’s songs, including that legendary bass guitar, throwing one reveller to the dance floor, imitating the famous Borrowdale dance was surely some stuff of the legends.

The school is increasingly growing its repertoire, having already come up with compositions to be recorded.  Apart from the notable brilliances of the students, Copota School has managed to tap much counsel from Mr Chiteke, the music teacher who is armed with a music degree from the Great Zimbabwe University and exuding passion from the gods.

He took us through the remarkable journey which the band has gone through.  “As you see here, the children are performing renditions to some well-known songs which have been performed by various artists over the years.”

“Before they perform, I play the song to them, ask how many instruments are there, backing vocalists and other such information.”

 “We have however gone further, having our musical compositions, which now number fifty.”

“These are based on occasions which we have attended in the past, out of which songs have emerged.”

 “We however have resource constraints in recording the material.”

With resources at their disposal, the students can have lifelong careers in music.

Unfortunately, some of the students have lost their musical touch, especially after leaving school. The teachers attributed this to the fact that most of the children do not have instruments back home, which ends up affecting their acts.

Having realised this, from experiences of most students, save for the few having well to do parents affording instruments, the institution approached Leonard Cheshire to sponsor musical instruments which the scholars keep upon leaving school  

Despite such hindrances however, the school has bred notable names within the music industry.

Prominent among this lot is Munyaradzi Munodawafa, the start-up gospel musician of the 90’s, who has grown to become a man in the musical divide, all under the glare of the entire nation.

Then there is John and Ownstar- the pianist-cum lead singer who is part of the current band.  Beyond the Munodawafa trio, other musicians have emerged including Tendai Chiodza and Trymore Chikandaviya, who doubles as musician and Pastor at the Reformed Church in Zimbabwe Victoria Falls Assembly.

These and many other positive stories at Copota have debunked disability and society’s minimal expectations. 

The school has further gone on to bring in gospel musicians Mai Mtisi and Blessing Shumba, as part of a programme to create an interface with known artists.

True to their growing profile, the band has performed at occasions held at its sister entities-Teachers College, Reformed Church University and countless national fixtures and private ceremonies.

In the end, a remarkable story of triumph has been written at one of Zimbabwe’s premiere institutions for disability.

  • The writers work in the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare.   

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