MONICA KAYOMBO, Lusaka
LIZZIE Kamukwamba has lived most of her life with a hearing disability. But being deaf has not stopped her from achieving her dreams of attaining higher education and influencing other people in society. To share her story and encourage others facing disabilities not to give up, Ms Kamukwamba has authored a book titled: ‘a walk with disability’. Describing herself as a lady of firsts, Ms Kamukwamba shares how she has been the first deaf learner at six institutions to attain formal education that has seen her attain her current level. Ms Kamukwamba was not born with a hearing problem however, around the age of seven, she suffered from osteomyelitis, a condition that causes inflammation of the bone or bone marrow. Due to delayed treatment of the injury, other complications plunged in resulting in her being in and out of hospital for over five years before recovering.
It is around this period that she lost her hearing. Speaking in an interview, Ms Kamukwamba said she was inspired to author a book to enable her to share the challenges and experiences to encourage other people with impairments not to give up. “We all share the same concerns, grieves aching hopes, and burning needs for knowledge. The ability of one person’s experience to comfort and direct another therefore, appears logical,’’ she said. Sharing her story as a self described ‘lady of firsts’, Ms Kamukwamba shares how she was the first pupil at St. Joseph’s school for the deaf in Kalulushi, first deaf pupil at Roma Girls in Lusaka and first deaf student at Kitwe Teachers ‘College. She also enrolled as the first deaf student at Luanshya Technical and Vocational Teachers ‘College and was the first student to obtain a bachelor’s degree in special education and masters from the University of Zambia (UNZA). Additionally, Ms Kamukwamba has a diploma in regional sign language from East Africa and leadership training for individuals with impairments from Tokyo, Japan. She attended college and university lectures with able bodied people and had no sign language interpreter to help her follow through. “However, this challenge of not having an interpreter during lectures did not deter me from achieving my goals as I made up on what I missed through individual studying and research,” she said. She is now a qualified special education teacher, peer educator and currently working as senior lecturer at Zambia Institute of Special Education (ZAMISE) in Lusaka. She enrolled at UNZA in 2009 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in special education in 2011. In 2015, she enrolled for her master’s degree and graduated in 2017 and she has vowed not to stop here. “If the Lord continues to add more years to my life, I will soon go for my PHD,’’she writes.
She joined the civil service in 1992 and was promoted in 2021. With 30 years of expertise instructing in both primary and secondary schools, Ms Kamukwamba is also certified to advocate the rights of deaf people in southern Africa. Sharing her story, Ms Kamukwamba said as a child, while playing and swimming with friends at a river in Kashiba, Luapula Province, she slipped and knocked her right knee against a rock, but she underestimated the impact of the accident until the leg got swollen and became very painful to bear. However, the family soon realised it was a bad situation and thus begun her long journey with hospital admissions. She was admitted at Kashiba Mission Hospital, Mbereshi Mission Hospital in Kazembe. The hospital became her home for the next five years as she was constantly in and out of hospital in Luapula, Copperbelt and University Teaching Hospitals in Lusaka until 1974. During this period she underwent 10 operations. Ms Kamukwamba started her special education in 1972 at St. Joseph’s Mission School for the deaf in Kalulushi. The school was previously run as an orphanage managed by the sisters of Saint John the Baptist. A few months after she was enrolled at St. Joseph’s Mission School, Ms Kamukwamba was hospitalised at Kitwe Central Hospital for one year and this was where she learnt how to read and write English. She was adopted by Sister Carmela and Baptistine sisters and was the only girl who managed to sit for Grade seven in 1978 with six other boys. She passed with the highest marks among pupils with disabilities in the country and was posted to Roman Girls’ Secondary school in Lusaka. Her mother died when she was in form four or Grade 11 at Roma Girls’ School and this almost affected her academic performance. Fortunately she managed to pass her Grade 12 in 1983 after which she taught as an untrained teacher for three years at St Josephs, her former school in Kalulushi. After a lot of struggle to be accepted in college , she finally enrolled for a course in teaching at Kitwe Teachers’ college. She later proceeded to University of Zambia (UNZA), where she obtained a first degree in Special education and later a master’s degree in the same field. Due to her hospital experience during her childhood, she hate hospitals and gets scared when any of her children gets sick.
As a result of the numerous operations she endured, her right leg is disfigured and to avoid curious stares, she always weras long skirts and dresses. “I have no problem explaining to those who ask what happened, but I do not like to attract unnecessary attraction. She credits her successful healing to God, her faith in God, mother, Batiste nuns, doctors and nurses. In her book, she has advised people that come across people with hearing impairment to treat them with joy and confidence
“Never say sorry when someone tells you that they have a hearing impairment, instead, you must smile,” she said. In her book, she has narrated how offended she got when someone refused to serve her and her colleagues drinks on the basis that they had hearing impairments. “This how some members in society perceive persons with disabilities, as less human beings. It is painful for those on the receiving end, “she writes. Ms Kamukwamba, who is a Christian worshipping in the Catholic Church, says her faith in God has kept her strong and in high spirits. “My family has also always been there for me and I thank them for that,” she said. One of her major concerns is that there is not enough sensitisation to help people understand the capabilities that deaf people have. “Deaf people must be thought of as part of the general population, entitled to the same rights, privileges, services and considerations as others and equally having the same responsibilities. We are not second class citizens,’’ she has written.
Mr Kamukwamba, who is married with two children, shares that seeing her children grow is a great sense of joy and satisfaction. Her first-born a son recently graduated from UNZA with bachelors of art in special education while her second daughter is doing a degree in social work and development studies with Rusangu University. “I am happy that by the time I will be retiring as a civil servant, my children would have finished their university education,” she said. She has also vowed never to quit in the fight for the rights of the deaf and all women and girls with disabilities.