Disability does not mean inability, so goes the saying and the same can be said of one Masvingo woman who defied all odds and attained a doctorate degree despite being visually impaired.
In what could be one of the many firsts for women in Zimbabwe, a visually impaired 52 year-old Dr Farisai Mlambo recently attained the PhD with the University of South Africa.
Dr Mlambo, who became visually impaired at the age of 6 after contracting measles has fought her way up to achieve higher educational qualifications despite facing many challenges like internet connectivity as well as lack of special devices used by visually impaired people.
“Getting foreign currency at times was not easy as I was paying for my own school fees but luckily for me, UNISA chipped in and offered me a bursary twice.
“One of the biggest challenges I have faced is getting underrated because of being a female especially one living with a disability as people tend to look down upon me and thus underestimate my capabilities,” said Dr Mlambo.
Covid-19 as well did not spare Dr Mlambo as she also had to endure a fractured leg thus slowing down her studies though she did not withdraw but soldiered on.
For Dr Mlambo, intrinsic motivation played a greater part in pushing her to study as she desired to achieve that which other females could achieve ruling off the fact that she is visually impaired.
“If anyone is capable of doing anything, then I can do it too even though I am a female who is visually impaired. My husband also played a greater part in motivating me financially and socially, it helped me a lot.
“I strongly believe that one day I can be able to achieve something that people who do not have a disability cannot because I believe I can be anything like a dean of a faculty or even a professor,” added Dr Mlambo.
Dr Mlambo’s husband, Tawanda Mlambo said there were instances when friends were an impediment as they discouraged her doubting her ability to pursue further education.
“People often discouraged my wife advising her that pursuing such studies requires someone who is independent and can work on their own unlike her who requires assistance,” said Tawanda.
Dr Mlambo became blind when she was in grade 1 at Gundekunde Primary School in Zvishavane and had to later on transfer to Copota School for the Blind in 1984 to 1992.
In 1993 she had to take drop out for a year as most schools did not accept visually impaired students for Advanced level but was later on admitted at Gutu High School from 1994 to 1995.
In 1996, Dr Mlambo took up temporary teaching whilst awaiting going to college.
From 1997 to 1998 Dr Mlambo trained as a secondary school teacher at Hillside Teachers’ College in Bulawayo and was deployed to teaching in 1999.
She had her first Bachelor’s degree in Education specializing in English at Solusi University in 2005 on block release to balance work and education.
“I once worked at Mutero and Cheninga then Copota where I was stationed since 1999,” said Dr Mlambo.
She moved from Copota to Morgenster Teachers’ College in September 2012 where she worked as a lecturer up to 2019.
Dr Mlambo is not only passionate about studying but also has an interest in sports and boasts of having plenty of gold medals for training Paralympics.
“I also participate in Paralympic games and was a coach for athletic games in which I am certified for training visually impaired students,” said Dr Mlambo.
In 2013, Dr Mlambo furthered her studies by taking up a Masters of Languages specializing in English with Great Zimbabwe University (GZU) where she graduated in 2015.
Dr Mlambo began to study towards her doctorate in 2016 thus has been continuously studying.
“I am always furthering my studies and already working on becoming a professor with about five published articles so far,” she said.
People are still in the habit of underestimating the ability of visually impaired people in taking up responsibilities which is a challenge for her.
“People are sometimes just skeptical when dealing with people with disabilities.
Some people living with disabilities face challenges on issues to do with marriages but for Mlambo it’s a different case as she has been in school most of the time as I was already in her life.
“Our families never raised any concerns when we wanted to get married as is the case with most people who want to get married when they are both visually impaired,” said Tawanda.
Dr Mlambo also revealed that people have a tendency to trust the assistant of a visually impaired person more than the one executing the duties although she was able to overcome by way of explaining and showing people her capabilities.
Her thesis was ‘Challenges faced by visually impaired students in English language at Ordinary level’.
Currently Dr Mlambo is a lecturer at GZU.