“I Am Playing for the Inclusion of All Disabled People”

By Blessing Makirimira

My name is Blessing Makirimira, I was born deaf. I am the eighth born in a family of nine kids. As long as I can remember I have always loved playing football. Like any other young boy in my neighbourhood, I would make my own football using plastic paper. I was the Robbie Fowler in the dusty streets of Marondera. My dream was to wear the red strip and walk out the dugout at Anfield. Like any other young boy, I had big dreams.

My parents enrolled me in a special school for children with hearing disabilities. It was at this school, Emerald Hill School for the Deaf, where my footballing skills were nurtured and developed. My coach always emphasised that my being deaf was not the end of the world and that I was no different from any other person; through hard work I could be anything I wanted to be. With the support of my family and teachers, I excelled in my academics as well as on the pitch.

Upon finishing my high school, I had so much hope and promise; I had big dreams. In Zimbabwe like in many societies, cultures, and communities, people with disabilities suffer exclusion and stigmatisation resulting in their aspirations and dreams being shattered before they are even realised.

I was no different, after completing my high school education, I could not proceed to university mainly because the curricula in the universities in our country are not inclusive of people with various disabilities. Most if not all university lecturers cannot use sign language, and the universities do not have interpreters for the deaf student. With just my high school education I tried to look for a job…

The job market was highly competitive. Even people with degrees couldn’t get a job. Though I am capable of doing any job, my being deaf made other people uneasy about hiring me. For some time I worked as a parking attendant, assisting people get parking as well as guard their cars. I worked as a guard and as a waiter; things were very tough the little I made could not even sustain me. I had to look for another job.

After a long struggle trying to get employment, I was finally hired by a small carpentry. This is where I attained vocational skills. As fate would have it the company, reeling from the financial meltdown in our country, had to scale down its production as well as workforce. I was amongst the first to be retrenched. With the little amount of money I got from the carpentry company, I started my own business as a vendor selling sweets, snacks, and mobile phone recharge cards. And so began another chapter in my life on the streets of Harare as a vendor.

Life as a street vendor is hard, worse still with the communication barrier. I adapted and learnt a lot on the streets. The police would come and take our wares, we braved the elements, sun and rain, just to try to earn a living. In all these circumstances I never lost sight of my dream: playing at Anfield one day.

One day friend who works with deaf people introduced me to Young Achievement Sports for Development (YASD), and told me how they were working with young people living and working on the streets. YASD had football programmes which they used to mentor and develop the skills of young people. I reluctantly joined in one of their training sessions, when I got there I was surprised as to how these guys were working at also including people with disabilities.

As they say, the rest is history. Today I stand to go and represent my country at the Homeless World Cup in Glasgow. Hopefully we will win the Cup. I have played in many soccer teams but being included in the Zimbabwe Homeless World Cup team was a dream come true, I never dreamt of playing for my country one day. As we do our drills and trainings, I always remind myself that I am playing for the inclusion of all disabled people.