by Priscilla Chama, ChildFund Zambia
Over the course of January’s 31 days, we’re making a blog stop in each country where we serve children, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and donors. Today, we meet Matildah, a youth with disabilities, who realized her dream of competing in an athletic competition.
“I felt so grateful, humbled and honored to be crowned with a gold medal for best athlete of the year, contrary to what many people think about us, the disabled,” says Matildah, a 15-year-old Zambian. “That moment made me realize that I can do all that the so-called able, normal people can do, and I hope to do better than this next time,” she says.
Orphaned at an early age, Matildah is one of several hundred children with special needs who are benefiting from ChildFund Zambia’s Special Education Needs (SEN) project in Luangwa district, with support from ChildFund New Zealand. Luangwa has more than 300 children with special needs, who initially had no access to education. ChildFund Zambia has constructed classrooms, dormitories and teacher housing to create a positive learning environment for children. It’s made a world of difference for Matildah and her classmates, who are increasingly confident of their abilities.
A strong runner, Matildah was an eager participant in Zambia’s 2011 provincial athletics competition open to children with special needs from Lusaka, Luangwa and Kafue districts. The competition was held at the Olympic Youth Development Center in Lusaka.
“I love athletics but had no platform to showcase my talent. That is why I am so grateful that the organizers arranged a competition in which children with various disabilities like me could participate,” she says.
Matildah outclassed other competitors and placed first in both the 50- and 100-meter events. She beams with excitement as she recalls the experience of the competition and interacting with fellow athletes.
“Most of us were given an opportunity to travel outside Luangwa for the first time since we were born,” she notes. “As you know children like us are always kept indoors, but this is now changing because of the school for children with special needs,” she explains.
Matildah admits that just a few years ago she had no hope of ever getting an education. According to her grandmother, Matildah’s cognitive difficulties since birth meant she could not be enrolled in a regular classroom.
Her big breakthrough came when ChildFund introduced the SEN project, and Matilda was one of the first children registered. Matildah now attends school at Mwavi Basic, where she is enrolled in the special education unit and is in the second level.
“I want to finish school and become a teacher for children with special needs,”
Matildah says. For now, she loves going to school and also gardening. And, of course, there’s running.