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Ethiopia

Endurance II?

The Monitor (Addis Ababa)
November 13, 1999
By Lullit G. Michael

Addis Ababa - It was one sunny morning, five years ago. The time was around 11 AM in the morning. The two brothers, Shewangizaw Getachew, then 12 years old, and his younger sibling Wendwossen Getachew were going to school.

Their father, who is a mechanic works in the city so he had left early. Their mother was visiting a sick relative in a hospital.

That fateful morning was as normal as any, except that the two brothers and the entire family did not know what was in store for them. They live in an area commonly known as Ayer Tena, past the Alert Hospital in Old Airport.

They had barely left their house when the younger brother brought a fascinating metal ball. It was round and intriguing in shape.

The older brother took it and started hitting it with a stone-a curiosity that proved lethal. The metal ball exploded, and the two kids were thrown into the miserable life of the disabled in a split of a second.

The younger one lost sight of both his eyes while the older- Shewangizaw, in whose hands the bomb went off lost both arMs. This proved to be the beginning of their misery. The two boys were hospitalized and received treatment at Tikur Anbessa Hospital for five months.

There wasn't much that could be done for them, so they started staying at home. Their four older brothers kept on going to school as did their own classmates.

The two youngest boys did not have much hope from their families who did not have any money to spare. "Let alone to care for two disabled kids with special needs, they cannot even afford to care for six of us, as our father is the sole bread winner in the family, and he does not make much," said the bright Shewangizaw.

He is 17 now. And talks in a quiet matter of fact voice, with an air of dignity.

His spirits do not seem to have been broken, but talking with him quickly reveals that he has been robbed of his childhood by the harsh realties of the life of a poor disabled person in Ethiopia. "How did you get here?" was my incredulous question.

"Well, I stayed at home for three months, at total loss with what to do with myself. Then one day, one relative gave me a bracelet.

I slipped it into the stub of my right arm. I was able to slip a pencil in that bracelet and tried to write with it.

It was slippery initially. But, through practice, I perfected it, and within three months I begun to write well."

"I had a small belt made to fit my size, and I begun to use what was left of my arm well." Shewangizaw, after a five year break, has now gone back to school.

He studies at Biruh Tesfa School around the Zenebwork area. He joined the 4th grade and has been successfully studying.

He is now a 6th grader. The determined teenager is not merely surviving at his class.

He always stands first. "What were your grades like?"

"English 100, Math 95, Amharic 92, Social Studies 95, Drawing 85 and Music 85" Remarkable.

He not only has lost all his friends due to the accident and what had happened to him, he says he has not been able to make any new friends now. "The problem I had," he says, "was integrating with the students.

Instead of doing their work, they all stop to look at me as I write, but I go there to get education, so I do not pay and attention to them." He says the society is not very supportive of disabled people and "mostly we are outcasts."

"Let me tell you what happened to me once," he said. "I was waiting for a bus.

The bus came and I joined the queue. I turned to a lady standing there and asked her to please take out the coins from my chest pocket and buy me the ticket.

She jumped with fright. I was surprised by her reaction and told her that I was not begging for money, I only needed assistance.

She apologized and took out the money and paid for me." Shewangizaw, says, he can dress up by himself. He has a small thread knot tied around his trouser zipper to help him zip up.

He says he can pencil draw, eat using a spoon or a fork. He also play table tennis, and can drive a car.

"What about the brother? Is he as strong as you are? Has he adjusted?"

"I do not see my brother that often. He lives in a campus for the blind.

It is a boarding school. He told me that since it 's a school for the visually impaired, they support each other."

"I myself do not live with my parents.

I temporarily live in a home for the disabled. My future is uncertain.

My only interest is to continue with my education, and I want to break out of this poverty and uncertain situation. But with my condition, I just do not know how." The shelter he lives in provides lodging and exercise books for his studies.

He shares that home with disabled people of various ages. A majority of them, are adults and do not go to school.

The father, who does not make much, plays a very supportive role. But he cannot help much, there isn't enough to go around.

He is very happy that his disabled son is doing well in school, a motivation to his elder brothers, but verbal encouragement can only go so far. "Were you a good student efore the accident?" I asked him.

"Why should I tell a lie? I was not. I loved playing.

I used to play a lot, and roam around with my friends. I don't know why, I prefer to read my study books now."

"Nobody comes close to me, "People shun us disabled," said the young man with the pain of lonliness visible in his intelligent eyes.


Copyright (c) 1999 The Monitor - Addis Ababa. Distributed via Africa News Online (www.africanews.org). For information about the content or for permission to redistribute, publish or use for broadcast, contact the publisher.

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