PRISCILLA MWILA, Lusaka
TO THOSE who grew up in Luanshya in the 80s and 90s, Dagama School was well known. It was well known because it stood out for being a school for physically disabled Children.Dagama is run by Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Assisi children stigmatised by their society because of their handicaps such as cerebral palsy, amputations and congenital deformities, were able to receive the care and attention the school.But among many children, it was not a popular school. It had a stigma attached to it.
Any person with a disability was called a Dagama.
In March, First Lady Esther Lungu was at Dagama. On behalf of her foundation, she donated mealie meal, rice, food hampers, boom paste, bath soap, juice, wheel chairs, blankets, sanitary towels and text books.
Mrs Lungu made a few remarks concerning disabled children.
She urged all stakeholders involved in the uplifting of persons with disabilities to accelerate the removal of barriers which prevent them from participating in their communities and the nation at large.
“Let our strategies empower people living with disabilities, especially the children, to get quality education. Initiatives must be made for citizens with disabilities to give them the opportunity to be productive and to contribute to their communities,” Mrs Lungu said.
“Let us come up with new ideas and services; let us be more committed to children with special needs; let us make more choices available to parents; and let us push for more funding so that our national reforms for persons with disabilities are fulfilled so that our commitments as a nation are achieved.
“We all know that children are the world’s best standard of perfection. Every child is beautiful in the eyes of God, and dear to Him for their own sake. And the truest measure of any society is how it treats those who are most vulnerable. Every child has something to contribute to the world, if we give them that chance.”
In Mrs Lungu, who has also enrolled at the University of Zambia (UNZA) to pursue a degree programme in Special Education under the Institute of Distance Education, the disabled have found their voice.
But it is not just the disabled, even other vulnerable members of society.
The outside world has noticed.
They include Junior Achievement (JA) Africa, a non-profit organisation dedicated to empowering young people to own their economic success by enhancing the relevancy of education, which recently awarded Mrs Lungu with a certificate of recognition for her work in empowering young people in the country.
Mrs Lungu received the award at State House recently during the mentorship programme, an annual event that brings together pupils from the rural areas of the country’s 10 provinces to spend time with the First Lady.
This year, 58 pupils who included the physically disabled attended this year’s mentorship programme.
JA Zambia and the Forum for African Women Educationalists of Zambia (FAWEZA) with support from Stanbic Bank organised this year’s mentorship programme.
The First Lady, who was in the company of the Minister of General Education David Mabumba, spent the whole day with the children, listening to the challenges they face and suggesting possible solutions as well as discussing career choices with them.
Speaking after receiving the award, Mrs Lungu said recognitions such as the one by JA motivates her to go an extra mile in helping young people.
“I always get satisfaction in helping young people achieve their dreams. I know that our children especially girls face a lot of challenges especially in rural areas. That is why through the ELF [Esther Lungu Foundation], I help where I can,” she said.
The First Lady was happy that the mentorship programme recognised children with disabilities.
“We are not identified by our diversities but unity because we are all Zambians whether able-bodied or handicapped. I challenge children with disabilities to rise above their challenges and be counted among those who excel in various fields,” she said.
Mrs Lungu also took time to encourage girls to avoid engaging in illicit activities that would destroy their future and hinder them from achieving their dreams.
And Mr Mabumba said the mentorship programme has come at a time when the ministry is implementing the new curriculum which promotes the two tire education system encompassing the academic and vocational career pathways.
He said government wants young people to have the right skills, knowledge and values to economically empower themselves through entrepreneurship and business development.
Mr Mabumba said the ministry will ensure that legislation, policies and programmes promote the participation of all stakeholders willing to contribute to the development of the education system.
“We have embarked on a massive infrastructure development programme by building and upgrading more schools from primary to secondary. We want to accommodate more children in rural areas in our education system,” he said.
JA Zambia is a non-profit making organisation aiming to empower young people through its experimental based career exploration programmes that are delivered in schools.
Its programmes are based on impacting skills in school children through its entrepreneurial programmes.
JA board chairperson David Chakonta appealed to government to introduce a budget line for career exploration and information for each ministry and statutory agencies to support mentorship and career guidance.
Mr Chakonta said JA intends to extend its operations to other parts of the country but is limited by lack of resources.
He said budget allocation would ensure cultivation of human resource required by Government institutions to attain the 2030 goal of becoming a middle income country.
Stanbic Bank also donated K215,000 to the First Lady.
PRISCILLA MWILA, Lusaka