Born prematurely and with disability, 12 year old Mwikwabe faced many challenges including the risk of undergoing FGM. Fortunately, with our support, she received a tricycle to ease her movement to and from school. She is now more informed about her rights and she is using her voice to bring and effect policy change on children with disabilities.
Mwikwabe’s father, a peasant farmer, is the sole provider depended upon by his wife and five children. The family relies on their small-scale subsistence farming earning approximately 40 Euros per month from planting and harvesting cassava, bananas, maize, beans and potatoes. The sale proceeds are used to cater for basic needs and medical care. They use water from a well located about 1.5 kilometers away from home. There is no playground in their homestead but the nearest primary school to their home, about 3.5 kilometers, has an ample playground for the children from the neighborhood. However, the roads to the school, public facilities and social spaces are rough roads, meaning that it is difficult particularly for children with disabilities to manoeuvre their way to school or reach other social places to get services.
Mwikwabe was born prematurely in 2010, with a disability on her legs. Unfortunately her mother never attended any medical clinic before her birth, and she did not take her to hospital for medical attention after she was born due to financial challenges and lack of awareness on the importance of prenatal and maternal care. Her mother would boil herbs and use them to massage Mwikwabe’s legs but that did not help at all. On several occasions, Mwikwabe’s father sought financial help from relatives so that she could be treated in hospital, but sadly, no one was willing to support him. Her paternal relatives would convince Mwikwabe’s father to abandon the family because of her disability, but her father’s love for her could not be overshadowed by the myth-blinded relatives. He frequently told them that Mwikwabe was a gift from God and his wife was also a gift from God. “I love my daughter very much, although she is disabled I regard her as someone who is not disabled, I love her and pray to God so that I continue loving and supporting her,” he said. Her father enrolled her to kindergarten in 2020 when she was 10 years old and he has been taking her to school on a bicycle and carrying her to class every day, and goes for her in the evening after the lessons. Mwikwabe also tries to assist on some of the house chores like washing clothes, cleaning utensils and helping her mother with cooking.
There is a general belief among Mwikwabe’s community that disability is a ‘curse’. This contributed to the hatred and rejection that Mwikwabe received from her relatives and the community at large. She was isolated by fellow children who did not want to associate or play with her. Her relatives kept asking her father to abandon the family and marry another wife in order to escape from the ‘curse’ of disabilities but he has never considered it at all. At the end of every year, Mwikwabe’s family is confronted by constant pressure by their relatives to have her undergo FGM. During that time, her father cannot go far from their homestead fearing that his daughter could be taken by the community members and forced to undergo the painful ritual.
ATFGM in collaboration with the village elder identified Mwikwabe during the implementation of the GIVE TZ project in May of 2022, during the door-to-door visits. Mwikwabe is among the children with disabilities (CWDs) who attended the GIVE TZ project training on their basic rights and advocacy strategies. ATFGM visited her family and sensitised them on the rights to protect and care for CWDs and the importance of enabling them to continue with education. Additionally, the project team supported her with a tricycle to facilitate her movement to and from the school and to the advocacy spaces. Her family also received counseling and awareness on the effects of FGM and child marriage, care for CWDs and legal awareness. Mwikwabe also attended the ATFGM training on the CWDs. Also, her parents were networked with other parents of CWDs and linked with the CP committees and the village executive to help in reporting any form of abuse or exploitation. Mwikwabe’s school received awareness on disability and the school’s child rights club members continue with both awareness and advocacy on disabilities within the school. This contributed to the change of attitude of the children in Mwikwabe’s school, as Mwikwabe has now made friends with some of her schoolmates who allow her to play with them. “Previously, I had no friends and people did not love me because of my disability, but now I have friends at school. It used to be difficult for me to attend school because I had to be carried by my father but now, with the support of the tricycle from the GIVE TZ project, I am able to go to school on my own together with my sisters.” she said.
ATFGM in collaboration with the local government authorities are still conducting follow-up and supporting the whole family with psychosocial support. Mwikwabe is now happy and joyful, and is able to get to school with the help of her tricycle. In the morning, she wakes up and assists in general cleanliness with her sisters, and then goes to school. At school, she is able to attend lessons and play with her friends too. She is an active member of the child rights club, and during the club days she joins her peers to discuss various topics on disability, child protection, hygiene, and self identity. She has changed her mindset and now knows more about her rights. She is happy because she is accepted by her school mates.
After Mwikwabe received a tricycle she no longer waited for her father to take her to school. She instead enjoys the company of her sisters and she rides to school in their company. Her father is able to focus on providing for the family. With her movement made easier, Mwikwabe is able to join advocacy spaces and participate in the advocacy for development of policies. She further received awareness on disability protection, negative impacts of FGM and child marriage, and is one of the peer educators.
Optimistic about her future Mwikwabe said, “Since coming to know about ATFGM, I believe my life has changed and I am optimistic for my future plans being fulfilled. I am studying hard in order to be a doctor in the future.”