He was born able. Now he is disabled. And at 21, Atusangalwishe Ndovi is a Standard Two dropout taking care of his siblings. JOHN CHIRWA delves into a multiplicity of issues that prevent people with disabilities from accessing basic and technical education.
His heart was willing to continue with education in 2004. But his physical state could not take him to school.
“The illness started suddenly when I was 10 years old,” narrates Atusangalwishe Ndovi, whose first name means ‘has made us happy’.
Ndovi does not have a medical term for his illness. All he knows is that his knees and wrists were swelling and, afterwards, they were producing hot watery substance.
Hospitals in Karonga, his home district, and Mzuzu failed to treat his condition. He was in that state for what he terms “a terrible two years”.
“We visited all reputable clinics in the Northern Region, but no help was rendered. With support from my uncle, we travelled to Blantyre to meet doctors.
“There, the doctors pumped thick bloody substances from the swells. For two years, I could not walk or eat alone,” says Ndovi, a fifth born in a family of seven children.
That is how he missed two years to develop educationally.
Just when he thought that was enough, another plague befell his family, like Job in the scripture. He lost his parents.
“This was a nail on my coffin,” he says. “I wanted to go back to school. But I had no parents to support my education. Life was not easy without parents. We lived a life of dire poverty.”
Ndovi recalls how industrious his father was. And he believes if the father was alive, he would have gone back to school.
“He was a hard-working farmer. Our home did not lack anything. But all that vanished in the twinkling of an eye” he says.
Three of his siblings have attained the Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE). Two dropped out while the other two, with whom he lives, are still schooling.
Ndovi, however, is not the kind of person who will take his disability as a licence to beg alms in the streets.
He has engaged a part-time tutor to teach him how to read and write.
However, he is struggling to access technical education, a major tragedy for people with disabilities.
“All I want now is to learn how to read and write. As it is now I can’t utter a word in English,” he says.
In Malawi, 54.2 percent of the youth have not attained primary level education, according to the 2012 Education Management Information System (Emis) report by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST).
At least 30.2 percent of the youth finished their primary education, leaving only 15.7 percent of the youth population to continue with education to secondary level or higher.
This has contributed to high unemployment among the youth, with Karonga district youth officer KondwaniNeba observing that youths are resorting to drug abuse and prostitution which leads to an increase in new HIV infections.
To address such challenges, government introduced technical education, both formal and informal, through the Technical, Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education and Training Authority (Teveta).
However, the disabled continue to be left out in accessing such technical skills as most of them lack the prerequisite MSCE to enrol for formal technical education, says Teveta training programmes specialist KomaniTembo.
“Only one or two percent of them enrol. But for those interested, we have special procedures of recruitment to assign them to institutions that are best suited for them.
“For those without MSCE, we advise them to enrol for the informal education where we, first of all, evaluate if their physical state fits into their area of interest,” said Tembo.
Teveta aside, several institutions have set up informal sector programmes to address the plight of the disabled. Teveta monitors, supervises and offers technical support to such institutions.
The CCAP Synod of Livingstonia is implementing a youth vocational training skills project in its congregations in the Northern Region where Ndovi is one of the beneficiaries.
The project targets dropouts, orphans, child-headed families, the disabled, those living with HIV and Aids and the poor, who are trained in bricklaying, cane weaving, visual arts and sign writing.
Ndovi has been trained in cane weaving and he plans to open a furniture shop in future.
“When the synod approached me, I took it as an opportunity to learn other skills apart from reading and writing.
“I don’t want to be like my friends in the village who are into theft and drunkenness.
“I want to acquire as much skills as possible to open a shop where I will employ two people to help me in fetching poles, and be able to feed my two siblings at home,” says Ndovi.