Banji Mulumbu seeks sponsorship to attend University

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I am Blessings Banji Mulumbu, 22 years of age, born April 20th, 1999. I am a physically challenged wheel chair user, the youngest of eight children. My parents lost three children before I was born, including my twin sister.

My mother was six months pregnant when she began feeling sick. She lost her appetite, had trouble breathing, and her whole body was swollen. Her breath smelled like she had eaten rotten eggs. She could no longer feel her baby moving, and her stomach felt as hard as a stone. Her illness got worse day by day. Soon she couldn’t walk or do anything for herself. The night of April 19, 1999, she went into labor. She was taken to the nearby Makunka Mission Clinic.

Around midnight, Mum gave birth to a still born baby. The fetus had begun to decompose; bits of flesh clung to the nurses’ hands. An hour later, she felt more labor pains, and to everyone’s surprise, I was born. No one had known that she was carrying twins. I was tiny and weighed less than two pounds. I should have been placed in an incubator, but there was no transportation at the clinic or in the village to take me to the Livingstone General Hospital, the closest facility that had one. But nurse Sister Bernadette Banda saved my life by wrapping me in cotton and covering me with blankets.

When I was six months old, Mum noticed that my body was not developing properly. My neck was particularly weak; she still had to support my head. When she told my father about it he said, “It’s because she is a premature baby. I’m sure she will be fine.” My mother was not satisfied with his answer, and consulted her mother, who advised her to take me back to the clinic. We went, and after observation we were referred to the Livingstone General Hospital. After being examined there, the doctor told my parents that I had a disability called cerebral palsy. He said, “Due to her premature birth, some of the processes which make a normal baby were disturbed, especially in the nervous system, which extends into the body through the spinal column. It controls her muscles so that she can touch, move, walk and run.” That was as much as the doctor could explain. Very worried, my parents asked the doctor if I would be alright and walk like other children. He answered “Medically, no, unless through a miracle of God.”

 

My parents were devastated. The doctor advised them to take me for physiotherapy. Sister Bernadette introduced us to the Mama Bakhita Cheshire Home, where there were other children with special needs being exercised by physiotherapists from the General Hospital. The Mama Bakhita was quite far from our village, so my parents could only take me there once in a while. But sometimes the Sisters would come to our place in the village to exercise me.

It was really hard for my family to accept my disability. People in our village already discriminated against us because my parents’ first son had a mental disorder, and now there was the added stigma of having a child with a physical disability. I was even called a moving grave by one of my father’s relatives.

It’s true that physically, I was very challenged; I could not even hold a pencil. But I was always eager to learn. When I was six years old, I started pleading with Mum to let me go to school. She told Sister Agnes Daka from the Mama Bakhita Cheshire Home about my desire. Sister Agnes referred us to a nearby school called Simango Basic School, where I would be allowed to attend, but would not be registered.

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Banji at 6 years old

I was so happy to start school! Children with disabilities are usually kept at home, hidden away to avoid discrimination, so the first day everyone was very surprised to see someone like me in school. Some were scared and some pupils from other grades came to watch me through the window. As the days went by my teacher was happy with my performance, even though I could not write. I just listened to the teacher, and sometimes had another student write for me. Seeing my progress, the principal decided to add me to the register. At the end of the year, he called my mother to tell her that I was intelligent, but should really attend a special school for children with disabilities.

Sister Agnes and Mum found Choongo Secondary School, a boarding school in a town very far from our village that was one of only a few inclusive education facilities in this part of Zambia. Sister Agnes paid the school fees and all my expenses. I stayed there for grades 2 through 9.

 

In grade 7, I took my first national exam to get into junior secondary school. As I can’t hold a writing utensil, they assigned a grade 6 pupil to write for me. I told her my answers, and passed the exam with very high marks. I was very happy, and so was my Mum. She worshipped God all day, and cooked my favorite food.

A new problem arose. In grade 8, students must take a lot of notes, so it would not be possible for someone else to write for me. I was taken to see the physiotherapist to determine if I might be able to learn to write using my feet or mouth to hold a pen. It turned out that it was not possible. One of physiotherapists asked if I could press a phone. I said yes, and they brought up the idea of teaching me to use a laptop. I was taught to operate it, and Sister Agnes from the Mama Bakhita found a white woman from America named Marsha Winsryg who bought me a laptop to use at school.

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In November 2012, we started our final exams. Four teachers from other grades were assigned to write for me and one other student who also could not write. There were also four proctors. The whole situation was very intimidating. Besides the pressure of having to pass the exam in order to continue my education, there were eight teachers for only two students!

When I went home after the exam, I found my mother very sick, unable to stand or walk. I was very upset; if anything happened to Mum, who would take care of me and my mentally ill brother? I was also very worried about what would happen if I didn’t pass the exam. The news of my failure could make my mother’s illness worse.

In January, the results of the exam were announced. My teacher called my mother and told her that not only had I passed the exam, but that I had gotten the highest score. Mum was very excited, proud and grateful to God. The joy in her heart helped her recovery.

I was selected to attend Monze Boarding High School. In February Mum and I went there to enroll. I was thrilled to be starting secondary school. We went into the office to register, and when the head teacher saw me, he could not believe that I was the Blessings Mulumbu on his list. He said, “I am sorry, we didn’t know she was disabled. Our school doesn’t accept such people. We don’t have housing for parents or caretakers, nor do we have special teachers. Also toilets and bathing facilities are not accessible for someone in a wheelchair. You can leave and let others come in.”

Hearing those shocking words made me angry, frustrated and sad. My joy in my progress was gone. We returned home. Mum tried to make me smile, but I couldn’t. It broke my heart every time I saw someone with low exam scores going to school, especially those in grade 10! I was so hurt. I asked God “Why me?”

I stayed home for two years without school. On World Disability Day, December 3, 2014, Sister Agnes arranged a television interview for me, so I could let people know my need to find a school that could accommodate me. After it aired, Sister Agnes received several calls in response. One told of a special school in Lwayash called DA-GAMA Primary & Secondary. Another was from Mr. & Mrs. Daka, who volunteered to pay for my school fees and expenses. It appeared that my situation was turning around, and we were all so happy. In February 2015, Mum took me to school. It was a bit disheartening to be entering grade 10 in the year I should have been graduating, but I was very happy to be continuing my education. I did very well in my first year at the DA-GAMA school.

In my second year, 2016, I was in grade 11. The energy crisis in Zambia was at its peak. Electricity rationing went from eight hours a day to only four. This greatly affected my schooling. I could only charge my laptop battery very infrequently, so I often could not study my notes or write out class assignments. I had to wait for other students to finish their own work before they could help write my assignments for me. My performance in class suffered.

The head teacher wrote a comment on my yearly report to say, “She is a good girl and very determined with her education, but she needs text books to study.” Mr. Alick Nyirenda donated money to provide me with the books which were required. It was a very lucky thing, because soon after, my laptop charger was damaged. From that point until I graduated, I studied only from the text books. Not being able to use the laptop really impacted my progress.

In February 2018, I passed grade 12, but not with the excellent scores I’d achieved on my previous exams. Everyone who helped me was very happy and proud; it isn't often in a village like mine that a disabled child can receive even a basic education, let alone pass grade 12. I was happy too, but I wished that I had been able to score higher. Still, I cried tears of joy, especially remembering that I was once called a moving grave.

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In 2018, I applied to the University of Zambia to study either Law or Peace and Conflicts. Both are master’s degree programs, and the fees are very high. My exam results were low for those programs, so I was not selected. I was advised to reapply to study Civic Education. Just when I was finally ready to  enroll, Covid 19 started, and the University was closed. I then applied and was accepted to the University in conjunction with Monze Community College, and am now doing distance learning, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Community Development and Social Welfare. Donations from the AACDP and a well-wisher (local donor) covered my fees for the first year.

I am still facing financial challenges which make my education difficult. I don’t have sponsorship, and the laptop and phone that were generously donated years past are no longer working properly. The computer is so important; without it, I could not have gotten to where I am today. 

 

Much of the school year is spent at home, but I also need a caretaker for the time I must stay on campus. I have no one to help me except my mother, who has done everything she can to help me achieve my goals. She has worked and borrowed to pay for my expenses, and has come to campus to take care of me, even though she still needs to care for my elder brother and three cousins who have no one else to look after them.

My dreams are:

  • To become a lawyer and help people with disabilities

  • To study Peace Conflict Resolution and attain a master’s degree

  • To start a school from preschool to university level for people with disabilities

  • To set up an orphanage

I want to say thank you to the almighty God, my Mum, Sister Bernadette Banda, Sister Agnes Daka, Marsha Winsryg, Mr. Alick Nyirenda, Mr. & Mrs. Daka and all the physiotherapists who have helped me. 

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