Blind student gains mobility

By: James Mupito and

Sister Agnes Bwalya

I am 13 years old and in Grade 1 at St Mary’s Special School in Kawambwa. There are six children in my family, two children are blind and my grandma and grandpa are both totally blind.

I am from the remotest area in Zambia where education is a luxury not all can obtain. Our roads are very basic and only government vehicles occasionally visit this area. In my village, people failed to accept me because they think blindness is a curse and they think I may bring bad luck on their families. I was not accepted and felt very lonely.

There were many limitations in what I could do and I had no option but to stay at home doing nothing. My posture was poor from lack of exercise, and in order to move a distance, someone has to look for a stick and I would hold the far end and my friend would guide me to my destination. I did not pay much attention to my movements, I just followed where the stick took me.

Sometimes I would fall and hurt myself but I desperately wanted to move and visit other places and people in the village. As I navigated our community, people watched me and shouted loudly to warn me when I was in danger of falling or bumping into an obstacle. Their yelling created fear in me, which caused me to startle, even if that sound has nothing to do with me. This fear destroyed my confidence and I limited my excursions beyond my home.

In my isolation, I realized how fear was limiting my independence and self-confidence. One day I was home alone, and I thought, “Today, I must visit the nearby school by myself.” There was a small boy drawing water from our well and he gave me directions. Slowly but surely, and expecting that I would fall, I navigated my way to the school and returned home. This was the beginning of my liberation and I started building a new world for myself. I learned that people are very helpful, some could hold me by the hand while others taught me by talking to me. My cousin and friend started teaching me how to count numbers and recite the alphabet, then I developed an interest in music. This gave me a thirst for learning and I started asking about school… but no one had an answer.

Contributed photos
Cynthia is a partially sighted pupil who helped James learn to walk with confidence. James calls her Mum.

One day, as I was at the roadside, a man spoke to me. He asked me my name and said, “I am a teacher of the blind.” He explained the need for education and how I could become a teacher like him. I excitedly said yes. Immediately we went to the village headman, where my new friend introduced himself and left his contact information. That was in 2018.

In 2019, January, he came back and we walked hand in hand with the village headman and talked nicely to my parents concerning my attendance at St. Mary’s Special School in Kawambwa. They agreed on the condition that he would be fully responsible for me. At that moment, a light started shinning in the darkness and I was very happy.

After a long journey, we reached St. Mary’s School and we were welcomed warmly. At first, it was difficult as I could not navigate easily and had not learned to care for myself very well. I had to learn how to eat, wash myself and walk with confidence.

The cooks helped me, especially Mum Ivy, who is a patient woman and she was very kind to me.

When I entered class, it was my first time as a student. That first day I didn’t like it, but my teacher was patient with me. Stephen, one of my classmates who became my friend, encouraged me in all areas by saying, “James, soon you’ll be independent” but I found it hard to believe. I lived at the school and in the evenings, the house parents or caregivers, worked with me on orientation.

One day I realized, “Here at St. Mary’s, everyone loves me.” My teacher Rabecca, sings a song in our local language every morning that inspires me. “God Loves little children,” then she whispers, “God Loves you,” to each pupil.

Teacher Rabecca became my model, she also told me “Your inner self is ever strong.” This became my inspiration when everything became too much for me. This teacher of mine is lovely. Her treatment of me is the source of my inner strength.

Initially my fingers were soft and not very sensitive. My teacher gave me a bucket of sand and asked me to rub the sand in my hands. I did this two times every day for three months to increase sensitivity when learning Braille. I practiced “trailing,” in order to differentiate the smoothness and roughness and help to locate direction when moving without a white cane. I did finger manipulation exercises for flexibility and physical fitness exercises for strength and balance. These exercises drove out fear, and I started feeling good about myself. The wonderful white cane helped me walk straight, improved my posture and built confidence.

Education is key to overcome my limitations, both for myself and the people of the villages.

St. Mary’s School gave me many gifts, especially the love of my care givers especially from Mum Ivy who is so dear to me. The school is a friendly environment where everyone is your friend and I felt accepted, loved and appreciated. I give thanks to everyone who made my new life possible.

Ezra is pictured guiding James with a stick.

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