A girl sat on the ground smiling.
A girl sat on the ground smiling.

Photo © Jason Mulikita

Tapiwa

‘You should take me to school!’

Six-year-old Tapiwa, from Malawi, developed cerebral palsy after a malaria attack when she was just a baby. She has never been able to stand or walk on her own.

(For an audio version of this story, scroll to the bottom of the story).

Despite Tapiwa being bright and engaged, her grandmother Christina (who Tapiwa lives with) never thought that it would be possible for her to go to school. But then she met the volunteers and teachers at Chimpambana preschool centre, who have been trained on how to include children with disabilities in their classes, and they encouraged Christina to bring Tapiwa to the centre.

An older woman carrying a child on her back.

Christina has to carry Tapiwa to the preschool centre.

Photo © Jason Mulikita

Currently, the only way for them to get to the centre is for Christina, who’s in her 60s, to carry Tapiwa on her back. It’s hard, and Christina doesn’t manage the walk every day. But despite this challenge, she now feels happy and hopeful for her granddaughter’s future.

Christina

“Before, we couldn’t think about [sending Tapiwa to school]. In fact, it was only when we met one of the men who runs the centre that we learned how important it was to send the Tapiwa there.

“Today, I’m very happy that Tapiwa is attending the centre. She is able to interact with her friends in class. She desires to walk and dance – when we hold her up, she can do this. So she participates in everything that’s taking place in class.

“I go [to the centre] maybe two or three times a week. Because I am old, I cannot take her every day. But every day she reminds me in the morning: ‘You should take me to school!’ She enjoys being there.

A group of children, including Tapiwa, and their teacher playing with a colourful sheet.

When Tapiwa is at school she participates in the same activities as her classmates.

Photo © Jason Mulikita

“I’m very hopeful that Tapiwa will one day walk, because we have started going to the hospital and we’re trying to get some advice on how we can assist her to start walking. We are very hopeful that one day Tapiwa will walk to school. When that time comes, I’ll be very relieved.

“I have seen people who have disabilities who are in [important jobs] because they went to school. So for me, the only hope is that Tapiwa should go to school and get an education. And if it all goes well, when I’m dead and gone, Tapiwa can support herself. That’s all I’m looking forward to.

“The volunteers really encourage us to keep on sending Tapiwa to the centre. They see potential in her; she’s got the motivation to learn. And because of that motivation, they are very hopeful that Tapiwa will be proceeding to primary school very soon.”

Christina holding up Tapiwa.

Tapiwa's grandmother Christina does physiotherapy with her.

Photo © Jason Mulikita

Tapiwa’s progress

Tapiwa’s development since joining the preschool centre has been amazing. But the transformation isn’t just happening at the centre – Christina has been taught how to do physiotherapy exercises with her at home, and now Tapiwa can push herself up to a sitting position. It looks more and more likely that Christina’s hope for Tapiwa to one day be able to walk will become reality.

Tapiwa lying on a straw mat.

Photo © Jason Mulikita.

Audio version available here, just press play: