Blindness not end of the world

HARARE - He is a visually impaired who can respond to your text message or email in minutes but Tafadzwa Nyamuzihwa has faced many challenges in his life.

He does not know if Nyamuzihwa is even his real name because he was dumped at Mbare Musika as a toddler and was consequently taken to SOS Children’s home in Harare.

As he grew older, he earnestly searched for clues that could lead him to his true identity but all his efforts did not bear fruit.

Although the prospect of not knowing who you really are is emotionally taxing, this experience had not prepared the 29-year-old for what was to follow later on.

In 2001 things seemed to look up for the ambitious orphan when he was awarded a scholarship to study sports administration in South Africa.

Nyamuzihwa who had always loved sports, embarked on this journey with gusto as it was all he had ever dreamt of because he was a keen sports-person.

His dream however was short-lived as he started having problems with his eye sight which saw him being prescribed with spectacles, but these were not ideal for him since he was a sportsman.

“I then started noticing that during the day my vision would be clear but at night I would be completely blind,” Nyamuzihwa said in an interview with the Daily News last week.

He then decided to return to Zimbabwe in 2008 and started coaching tennis at Alexandra Sports Club in Harare but his eyesight problem persisted.

Back home he sought the services of a local optician who prescribed him eye drops which he used but to no avail. He then went to Sekuru Kaguvi Eye Clinic at Parirenyatwa Hospital.

“When I went to Sekuru Kaguvi, I was treated but that same day I went totally blind. At that exact moment I started feeling inferior. I went home after a friend assisted me and slept but when I woke up the following day my sight had returned,” he said.

The young man who would not give up consulted prominent optician Solomon Guramatunhu who told him he had cataract.

“On the day of the operation I met an old woman who had cataract but had undergone a successful operation. She was shouting singing and dancing saying ‘I can now see’ and this just lifted my spirit.

“I was then informed that I would be the last of the eight people who were going to be operated on that day because my case was complicated.

“After the operation, I had bandages on my eyes and I believed that as soon as I opened them all will be well but when I opened my eyes I could not see anything. I was crushed,” he said.

Nyamuzihwa went on to say: “I cried like I have never cried before in my life. I said to myself now I have two burdens, being an orphan and being visually impaired.

“I lost five kgs in the first week and tried to commit suicide twice.”

But his good friend George Banga, came to his aid.

“One day he (Banga) read from Jeremiah 29 verse 11 which says ‘for I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you, to give you hope and an expected end’. That was my turning point,” Nyamuzihwa said.

He then got renewed energy and courage to pick the pieces of his life together again. He then enrolled with the Dorothy Duncan Braille Library where he was trained to use a computer.

The four months spent at Dorothy Duncan equipped him with skills like Braille, mobility and computers which opened a whole new world for Nyamuzihwa.

With the acquired skills he managed to apply to a school for the HIV/Aids counselling course run by Connect.

“When I went for the course there where two other visually impaired people but they had recorders and I did not have one so I had to depend on my memory.

“When I passed that course I was so thrilled, it gave me the boost that I needed. It made me believe that even though I was blind, I could still be useful in this world. I was very happy because the disabled, especially people who are visually impaired are usually left out in disseminating information about HIV/Aids,” he said.

He later on got the opportunity to star in a television drama series Simuka Upenye  which tells stories of children orphaned by HIV/Aids where he played the role of a successful visually impaired guy.

Undeterred and invigorated by his success, Nyamuzihwa also applied for scholarship with International Institute for Social Entrepreneurs in India.

“In India I met with people who had been blind for 37 years who taught me a lot about other things I could not do. It is there where I was told that a leader is someone who has faced a challenge but had not let the challenge master them,” the visionary said.

The more than independent Nyamuzihwa said he is inspired by people who have overcome physical challenges like deaf and visually impaired author and advocate for people with disabilities Hellen Keller.

The late Keller once said; “Face your deficiencies and acknowledge them, but do not let them master you, let them teach you patience, sweetness, insight.”

Nyamuzihwa who hopes to get married and raise a family one day says it was only after he became visually impaired that he realised his God-given purpose.

“You know when you are blind, you are not easily distracted by things that people who can see are distracted by. Being blind made me focus on who I really am and my purpose.

“I am at peace with myself now, because I have a vision and vision has nothing to do with the physical. Vision is always on the inside, I’ve noticed that a lot of people especially those who can see, do not have vision because their eyes distract them too much,” he said.

The rather cheerful young man however is bitter about the way that society has shunned disabled persons.

Nyamuzihwa who swims and plays visually impaired cricket said he is broken hearted by how society is quick to judge visually impaired people which he says are never given the chance to live as they want to.

Recently the police were involved in a clean-up campaign where they took all the visually impaired beggars and their children off the street.

“What do they want those people to do, where do they go? Society has never given blind people an opportunity to do anything meaningful, this is probably the only way they know how to fend for themselves and their children,” he said.

In spite of his educational qualifications, wit and charisma, and the fact that he is highly computer literate and independent Nyamuzihwa has not been able to secure employment.

“You know when you are blind you face discrimination of the highest level. I once applied for a job as a receptionist and was called for an interview. But when I got there, they told me the position was not for a blind person,” he said.

Nyamuzihwa, who has a voice most broadcasters can only wish for, gave this reporter the opportunity to listen to a radio programme he recorded on his laptop.

He has tried numerous times to secure employment as a radio DJ which he could do quite well considering that he is witty, loves music and is well versed on current affairs issues, no one seems to be prepared to hire him.

Nyamz, as he is affectionately known by his family at SOS children’s village where he grew up, has also made inroads in registering a resource centre for the visually impaired Shine On.

Shine On seeks to empower visually impaired persons with life skills including computer literacy, but the visionary’s efforts are hampered by lack of resources.

After meeting with this remarkable visionary, who  does not let physical challenges deter him, one can attest to the notion that character is only developed through experience of trail and suffering. - Thelma Chikwanha, Features Editor

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