By Rudina Vojvoda
NEW YORK, USA, 2 December, 2013 – The 3rd of December, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities this year is commemorated under the theme “Break Barriers, Open Doors: for an inclusive society and development for all”.
To mark the day, podcast moderator Alex Goldmark spoke with Munyaradzi Mahiya (Munya), an inspiring advocate for a more inclusive society. Sharing his life story and his dreams, Munya said: “What I want is for the world to be accessible enough just so that we can be able to dream more because you can only dream to a certain point. When you get to that point and you are hindered by accessibility. Now, if I change that and make the world more accessible than everyone can dream bigger, as big as they want”.
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Munya landed on the path of activism through an unfortunate event. At 14 years old, he suffered from cancer and as a result his left leg was amputated from the knee down. Remembering that day, Munya said: “The doctor said you have one choice, either amputate or die and I said I’m gonna be pretty selfish here, I am gonna amputate. I still want to live.”
From that moment his life changed drastically. He missed a whole year of school and began to move around on crutches. He could no longer play football, a sport which Munya previously dedicated all of his time and thought was his future. The change that shocked him the most was seeing the reaction of some community members around him. “The community was not very receptive to people with disabilities, they still are not,” says Munya. In fact a close neighbour and family friend told his parents that sending a child with disability to school was a total waste of money because nothing can come out of it.
“This is when I realized, this is me this is my life and I need to do something about myself,” he said. His response was to dedicate himself to education and advocacy. At the beginning he just wanted to prove that education is not wasted on a disabled student. He noticed that his presence in school was inspiring other children with disability. It motivated them to do something about themselves and start coming to school. By grade 11, Munya campaigned to join the Student Parliament which that year happened to focus on children with disability. He ran a fearless campaign and was elected a senator.
“I just joined for the sake of breaking boundaries because I knew that I had broken the boundary of going to school but I had not broken the boundary of public speaking,” said Munya who is also a member of The Leonard Cheshire Disability Young Voices Group, an international project that provides opportunities for young people with disabilities.
The extra curriculum activities did not hold him back in his school results or in his sport activities. He won a scholarship to study at the University of Missouri and is planning to come back to further his studies.
“My next goal is doing very well in education and coming back to the States (USA) to study Humanitarian Law …and also to play wheelchair basketball and improve my game. I am definitely going to become the most valuable player back home,” says Munya.
Learn about UNICEF’s work on children with disabilities and inclusive education and join the conversation about the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Twitter!