By Ian Vambe
For some years it looked like Jairosi Jiri died with his philanthropist mind-set. His astonishing passion for people with disability, despite himself being able bodied was not of this world. The same traits have been since identified in the University of Zimbabwe Vice Chancellor, Professor Levi Nyagura.
Jairosi Jiri Association was founded by Jairosi Jiri himself in 1950 and has grown to become one of the prominent association in Zimbabwe. It is probably the largest of its kind in Africa and today the need is greater than ever. It all started when Jiri lived in Bulawayo where he made it a habit to help the disabled who sold in the streets and couldn’t carry their goods. He did not offer much but his bicycle to carry items sold by the disabled vendors in Bulawayo. Jiri’s passion developed every day and became big enough to see the birth of The Jairosi Jiri Association. The association ranges from schools to orthopaedic centres across the country. Thousands of persons with disabilities benefited from this noble association. They learn and train to be independent and societal competencies. Up to the present day the association survives the economic hardships and continues to exist and offer exceptional services to the disability fraternity. It only remains a question and an imagination in our minds of how the disability fraternity could have been if Jairosi Jiri lived up to the present day?
Professor Levi Nyagura of the University of Zimbabwe provides tuition and accommodation fees for every student with any form of disability at the institution he leads. Currently over 150 students are under this amazing scholarship with hundreds having graduated already. The vice chancellor established the Disability Resource Centre department in November 2014 which provides a special library, assistive devices such as brail equipment, and special computers for the visually impaired students, helpers, stand by computers and wheelchairs and helpers or assistants to every student whose condition requires one. He ensures students with disabilities are guaranteed the best hostels on campus. Surely this man resembles the Late Jairosi Jiri.
It is with no doubt that the University of Zimbabwe community and the country at large must be learning from a visionary and exemplary leader as he continues to lay the blueprint. With Zimbabwe having signed the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in September 2013(UNCRPD) which ensures state funded education for persons with disability, it remains a wish that the signed policy should now be domesticated. Prof Nyagura’s initiative should be adopted and made a national policy. Emancipation of women has been done so successfully in Zimbabwe and equal rights became a song every Jim and Jack knew how to sing. It’s now high time to emancipate the disabled fraternity from discrimination in political, economic and social spheres. Persons with disability need empowerment which enables them to have a self-sustained life and lead a normal life. The provision of free tertiary education to persons with disabilities, which is a great equaliser in the lacking fraternity, is a big step made by Prof Nyagura in ensuring inclusivity and empowerment.
Who would think of educating people with disabilities in this country where the economic conditions are absolutely unfavourable? A country where selfishness and corruption characterise the day. Economic hardships never seemed to be a big stumbling block in the Vice Chancellors ambition to help the disabled. The man is a Hero, an unsung one but whose works are profound.