AFTER impatiently outside the maternity ward on November 7, 1997, Lyndon Nkomo – a Zimbabwean-based lawyer – was overjoyed to receive news that he was father to a baby boy.
But for the next two years, baby Dumisani would not respond to sounds.
“I would shout and cheer at the top of my voice, but the baby would not startle at the loud sounds but remained unusually quiet,” said Nkomo.
Perplexed by the unusual scenario, the parents took their baby to the doctor.
“It was a Damascan moment of my life when the audiologist who performed the tests established that Dumisani was profoundly deaf. The audiologist prescribed some hearing aids but even when he tried them, they didn’t work,” said Nkomo.
Still dealing with the pain, confusion, and uncertainty, Nkomo enrolled the young boy at pre-school when he was four. But the challenges just got bigger.
“What broke my heart was that when Dumisani was in grade 7, I had gone to pay school fees and submit some documents which the school required. I asked the school clerk whether deaf children passed their examinations. I was shocked by the response.
She said ‘Haa avo here havambopasi.” (Ohh, those ones, they don’t even pass!!)’ She was emphatic and did not care about what she communicated to me.
I felt that we were wasting our time at that place and that the school did not care much about the quality of deaf education and the educational outcomes of deaf children. My spirit was broken, but she did not know she had planted a seed in me.
I resolved to fight for the right of people who are deaf and hard of hearing. I wanted them to get a good and appropriate education to help them pursue economically independent lives,” explained Nkomo.
Nkomo says that encounter made him realise that deaf people were the “forgotten tribe” of Zimbabwe, with society creating barriers that made it impossible for them to break through.
This was the genesis of the Deaf Zimbabwe Trust (DZT) – a voluntary organisation that promotes the rights and interests of the deaf and hard-of-hearing people in Zimbabwe formed in 2012.
“I set up DZT in one of my children’s bedrooms. So they had to share the other bedroom. Like any infant organisation, funding was challenging because I had to prove to potential partners that we had a fundable vision and project.
“Therefore, I had to fund DZT’s programmes and pay staff salaries from my monthly salary. I had to cut down on family expenditures to support this cause.
Later on, as the organisation grew, I found a property in Greendale for use by the organisation as its offices,” he said.
Through DZT advocacy with various government ministries, Sign Language was rolled out in Zimbabwe. The NGO also pushed for the successful amendment of the Education Act, which now recognises Sign Language throughout all learning institutions.
The organisation has also established the Deaf Africa College, which, apart from enrolling students, has become a model school for the nation to learn from in establishing inclusive education.
The organisation has also established the Disability Rights Law Centre to promote access to justice for persons with disabilities, and to date, 500 people with disabilities have been assisted. The centre has also trained over 800 police officers.
Nkomo says that during the formative years, he doubled as the organisation’s National coordinator until Barbara Nyangairi was appointed Executive Director.
Nyangairi, a founding member of DZT, said the desire to help out parents of deaf children from their entrenched desperation gave her the courage to abandon her highly-paying job.
“The situation facing the deaf community was dire. DZT came on board shortly after the Constitution of Zimbabwe recognised Sign Language as one of the official languages. However, apart from that recognition, there was nothing much to identify with the deaf community,” she said.
Nyangairi said she struggled to bring issues affecting the deaf community to the fore in the face of other highly rated forms of disabilities like the visually impaired and users of wheelchairs.
“From humble beginnings with just one staff member and Nkomo who doubled between his legal job and the DZT, the organisation now has about 20 permanent staff members with a presence in five provinces, namely; Bulawayo, Gweru, Chimanimani, Mhondoro–Ngezi and the capital of Harare,” she said.
A total of 12 deaf people have attained higher education qualifications, with 1,300 parents of children with disabilities having been provided with psycho-social support.
DZT has also facilitated the development of a Higher Examinations Council Curriculum for the National Foundation Certificate in Sign Language interpretation in Zimbabwe over and above advocacy and position papers published during the Covid19 pandemic and before the 2023 general elections.
A parent, Nyaradzo Muzhandu-Marimo, said she knew of DZT around 2015 after facing numerous challenges in raising school fees for her son, who was then attending a privately run school in Harare.
“That school (name withheld) got to the extent of dispatching debt collectors after me. I was so desperate, but when a friend referred me to DZT School, I went there, and from that day, my son’s life changed for the better.
“Takudzwa completed his Primary education and proceeded for Secondary education at the DZT School where he did well in his Ordinary Level exams. The trust further assisted him to enrol for a Journalism Studies which he is currently undertaking at the Harare Polytechnic College,” she said.
Through one man’s resolve, the lives of children and people who are hard of hearing in Zimbabwe continue to improve.
“Our works at DZT have positively indirectly impacted on the lives of over one million people within and beyond the borders of Zimbabwe,” concluded Nyangairi.