Sunday, August 5, 2012

FREDRICK MSIGALLAH

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FREDRICK MSIGALLAH, 43 years, Advocacy officer at CCBRT, physical disability

 My childhood life... Maybe I could start by explaining what I heard from my parents about the cause of my disability. It is actually the effect of polio and I got it at the age of five years. So I walked, I walked for about five years and then I was not able to walk any more. Of course, my parents did what they could to get treatment of the disease and they took me to several hospitals, but it couldn’t work. Then they had to accept, yes, we have a child with disability. And I thank for the way my parents have been looking after me, actually they gave me special attention because of my disability. For example, my daddy decided to make a trolley where they could put me in and he also looked for someone to push me so that I could move around. By then awareness on disability was very, very low, but I thank God that my daddy wasn’t like other people, saying: “This is a bad thing, you don’t need to waste your time in supporting such a child”. All my family members loved me and they still love me so much, so they provided me with all the support that they could, in terms of needs and education.
I was delayed to start my primary education for four years, because I didn’t have a reliable transport or assistive device, until when my dad was able to get a tricycle. He bought this tricycle from a father who was working in a certain Catholic mission. I was a bright student, to the point that my teacher, who was teaching both Grade 1 (in the afternoon) and Grade 2 (in the morning), advised me: “Can you come to all sessions?” So I did two classes, Grade 1 and Grade 2, in my first year and I finished my primary education in six years. And my parents were really very, very supportive. Of course there were some discouragements from other members of the community, they were even telling my dad: “You know, you need not waste your resources on this person. What is he going to do?”.
But my father said: “No, no, no, I know that this is what God has given me and if God has given it to me then there is a purpose to it. I need to give him all the opportunities as I am providing to my other children who are not disabled.”
I decided then that I want to go to the university to study. My daddy encouraged me and said: “For you, actually, education is very important. It is the only thing that is going to liberate you or is going to make you live independently.”
He told me: “You have your brothers and sisters, they are able people, if they don’t do well in academics I have shambas (land) they can till, so they can live their life. But in your case, you can’t do that, so the only thing you will depend on is education. So, make sure that you work hard and I will be there to support you.”
I joined the University of Dar es Salaam for my first degree on Education. The main challenge was the transport. When I came to the University, the environment was so harsh, not friendly. So many hills, so many steps. I needed someone to support me all the time. Now, who could be available? We were all students, rushing to cope with the studies, so it was a big challenge. We had discussions with the management to see if they could provide some motorised tricycles – and they agreed to provide them for all disabled students, so now I was able to move from my home place to the halls to the library. But again, with the steps you cannot go with your bajaji everywhere, the second floor of the library, no lift… I managed to overcome all these barriers  because I knew what I wanted to have is education. Whatever the situation was like, I made sure I achieved my goal of having a degree and that was my dream.
Most of my colleagues at the university were very open to me, there were only some who were not open. I was able to make friends. Also some of the lectureres were really very good and helpful. They kept on encouraging me to work hard and they told me I can make it and that I shouldn’t get despaired and that really helped me.
Getting a job was a big challenge. Maybe I can share a very interesting story with you on applying. I went to one of the offices here, in the city centre.
It was a Friday and when I entered the building I met a receptionist who asked me: “Oh, what are you doing here? Today is not the begging day!”
 I said: “I have an appoitment with your boss.”
She said: “An appointment for what? No, we are not providing money today!”
She went to ask her boss and I gave my name. That boss was also a graduate of UDSM and said: “Ah, with the way he is he was able to make the university”, so to her it was a real eye opener.
She came apologizing: “I’m sorry, I didn’t know this, so you are welcome to see the boss.”
So the point I am trying to make is the negative attitude that people have towards us, that we are beggars, not educated… Finally I got a job, I started working with an NGO that promotes human rights. My first boss was very much impressed with the way I was able to cope with the environment and to perform my duties. I was very eager to make sure that whatever I was being assigned I accomplish it and to a standard that is required. So my boss liked me so much.
Then I went for my masters in International development, public policy and management, from the Manchester University in UK. UK is very different from Tanzania. Our colleagues there are very far ahead in terms of services being provided for persons with disabilities, in terms of schooling environment, etc. In the university they have a special unit that caters for the needs of students with a disability and I was so much impressed, because even before reporting they were already doing an assesment of what I need. They knew that I needed assistive devices for movement, they knew that I needed someone to help me with cooking, washing and cleaning, an accessible apartment – so everything was taken into account even before I arrived there. They made sure that I got a powered wheelchair, an accessible hall of residence, they paid for my assistant and even when it comes to timetabling – they made sure that the lecture halls were accessible. As long as there was a student with a disability attending, they made sure that the lecture hall was accessible, otherwise they would change the venue. Even access to transport within the city was very easy, I was able to go everywhere without assistance, I could get into the bus with my wheelchair with the help of a ramp, even in the trains I could travel independently. This could work even in Tanzania, it doesn’t even cost much – you need buses that are low and you need to install a ramp – it is a matter of political will.
Now my dream is to develop in my career and become a very skilled and competent leader, particularly in development organisations. I want to be a director or a manager, to be able to manage many people or projects… I am dreaming to be a very experienced and qualified executive director or manager.
I am really very happy because as for now I am the one who provides basic needs to my family and I am now supporting my younger brothers and sisters for their education. Actually now the villagers are going back to my father and saying: “We are sorry, we were wrong, you have done a great, great thing in supporting this guy to this level”. So my daddy sees me like oh, you are everything now, and I am proud of that, because I was dreaming of that – to be able to support not only my life but also the life of my family members and that’s what I am doing now. I am happy about my life and I feel proud to be part of those people fighting for the better life of people with disabilities and that is what I would like to see in the near future, that many people with disabilities have their rights.
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