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Disabled US-based Zim student shares experiences
US Embassy
July 18, 2013

Energy Maburutse exemplifies how people living with disabilities have made notable achievements in the face of many challenges, among them discrimination. As the first disabled Zimbabwean student on a full scholarship to the U.S., Energy has demonstrated that ‘disability does not mean inability,’ proving that people living with disabilities can be self-reliant and top achievers.

Maburutse was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, often called Brittle Bone Syndrome. It is a genetic disorder characterized by bones that break easily, often from little or no apparent cause. He has never been able to walk.

Speaking at a Food for Thought discussion held at the U.S. Embassy’s Public Affairs Section at Eastgate, Maburutse relayed how he had been viewed as a curse when he was born. “When I was born, people thought my mother had done something wrong, they associated it with witchcraft,” he said. The discussion was attended by representatives from a variety of institutions that work with people with disabilities, and members of the general public. “With all those controversies, my mother was a very big umbrella protecting me,” recalled Energy who is study Communications and International Relations at Lynn University in the US.

Maburutuse made national and international headlines when a documentary film about the band in which he played lead marimba, Liyana, won an Oscar (or Academy Award), and another documentary about the group of musicians with disabilities, IThemba, swept top prizes at film festivals in Europe.

Still, he explained that society was not yet inclusive of people with disabilities, and has recently been conducting awareness workshops across Zimbabwe with support from the US Embassy. The outreach program hopes to change attitudes about disability and empower people living with disabilities.

“The world is not perfectly prepared to deal with people living with disabilities, they will always treat you like a beggar. You need to be a different person. You have to ask yourself, ‘what do you have to offer in the society that will make people respect you?’ he said. “You go into a bus and they ask you, ‘Do you have a letter from Social Welfare?’ when you have your own money to pay for your fare.”

According to findings by the National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped (NASCOH), about 2% of people living with disabilities are employed in the public sector and about 7% overall in Zimbabwe. “For us to have a higher percentage of people living with disabilities employed, it takes personal courage, just yourself telling yourself that you are just a person,” said Energy.

Energy, a graduate of the United States Achievers Program (USAP) is currently studying Communications, Media and Politics and International Business at Lynn University in Florida in the United States. USAP assists talented students from disadvantaged backgrounds to negotiate the application processes to some of the top universities in the US.

Maburutse commented on the recently passed constitution in Zimbabwe saying it was representative of the rights of the disabled, because it accounts for the rights of everyone. “I do not feel that disabled people are excluded in the constitution because as it says equal rights for all human beings. I have already included myself since I am a human being. Why then do you ask if the constitution views us as a people? You are already discriminating against us.”

Nonetheless he attributed some of the challenges disabled people face to the fact that government had failed to support acts relating to disability issues. “Government has failed to support acts to do with people living with different conditions. Buildings are inaccessible,” he said, citing an example. “We went to the City Council and we noted that all the building plans they had did not have any ramps. They don’t consider people who are visually impaired or with hearing impairments,” he contested.

Contributing to the discussion, Lewis Garaba, Secretary General of the Zimbabwe National Paralympic Committee, noted that it was time people living with disabilities took matters into their own hands. “It is time for us to look at the source of our problems. Our buildings are inaccessible – let us go and look at the city’s bylaws, lobby the government… rather than have a situation that we continue to talk about. We should look at it from an empowered point of view, because it is not us only who need ramps, but other people like the elderly.”

On May 27, 2013, the Lower House of parliament completed the process needed for the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Civil society organizations in Zimbabwe and networks of people living with disabilities. A disability expo is being held between July 17 and 19 to raise awareness on the rights of people with disability, under the theme: “Empowering and Mobilising Society to Create Sustainable Livelihoods for People with Disability”

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