Primrose Mandishona. Photo: Jon Pilch/Camfed

Growing up with a disability did not stop me becoming who I am today

By PRIMROSE MANDISHONA, Camfed alumnae leader and disability activist in Zimbabwe

My name is Primrose Mandishona. I was supported at school by Camfed and became a founding member of CAMA (the Camfed alumnae network) in Zimbabwe. This was a life-changing opportunity for me, having been affected by a disability since I was nine months old. But growing up with a disability did not stop me becoming who I am today, it was actually my greatest motivation. It made me want to keep trying, and to prove the point that I could achieve just as much as my classmates.

I was around nine months old that day. My mother and grandmother went to the fields. They left me and my sister in the hut where people stay to scare the baboons. My mother came back to find the hut on fire. My sister had pulled me out from the hut but the burning thatch was falling on me. I was taken to the hospital, and for many years I was receiving treatment. I developed contractures, which affected my posture. I was transferred to Gweru for a graft but it failed. It is by God’s grace that I am not a psychiatric patient.

Sometimes I hated school because other children would bully me and call me cruel nicknames, but having a physical disability did not hold me back intellectually, and I excelled in lessons
Schoolgirls in Zimbabwe. Photo: Camfed/Jon Pilch

I was always determined to become independent, both personally and financially, but coming from a poverty-stricken family was a big limitation and made completing my education uncertain. This is when Camfed stepped in and enabled me to continue on to secondary school. That opportunity boosted my confidence and from then on I knew my dreams would become reality. 
Sometimes I hated school because other children would bully me and call me cruel nicknames, but having a physical disability did not hold me back intellectually, and I excelled in lessons. This gave me the will not to drop out of school.

I dreamed of becoming a physiotherapist, as the physiotherapy department had helped me achieve my independence through their treatment. Today, I am a rehabilitation technician by profession, and a social activist promoting and changing the lives of people with disabilities.

I help people who are disabled believe they have a place in society just like everybody else.
Me at work. Photo: Camfed/Mark Read

It has been a long journey to become a physiotherapist. I applied in 2000 and got a ‘regret’. I applied again only to receive another ‘regret’. The Principal, Mr Tarasana, wrote to me giving advice. I applied again and got an interview. I told them, ‘No matter how many times you regret me, I will not give up.’ I got my place. I knew it was the job for me. I want people to feel secure. I help people who are disabled believe they have a place in society just like everybody else.

I can’t recall the pain, but now because of the pain I see in other children, I know it was painful. I now understand the severity of my burns. I had known the practicalities. I had the experience and now I understand the theory. Today, it’s great because I understand the problems and work with them. Especially when I am treating children with burns, placing them in the saline baths, I will say, ‘You don’t have to cry. We want you to be well. I was also burnt when I was very young.’ And I will show them my scars and they are happier. It becomes much easier for them and for us to treat them.

A supportive family and community play a vital role in the lives of children living with a disability

I have learnt that a supportive family and community play a vital role in the lives of children living with a disability. Once they do not face discrimination in the family or in the community, they can excel. As others recognize the potential these children hold, opportunities will increase and the stigma surrounding disability will be broken down. I have been given the chance and this is me now.

Me at the Disability Summit held in Harare on 17 April 2018.
With education, young people living with disabilities have a much better chance of gaining financial independence.

Disability should not be an obstacle to success! My desire for every child with a disability is access. Once we achieve access to education for all children, opportunities will open up to them. With education, young people living with disabilities have a much better chance of gaining financial independence. There is no reason they cannot be involved in income generating projects and enjoy fulfilling employment.

My success has allowed me to fight for the rights of children in similar circumstances to mine. I hope all those living with disabilities will be encouraged in education and employment, so they can join me to create positive change.


Primrose is a founding member of Camfed’s CAMA alumnae network, now 120,000 strong across sub-Saharan Africa. The power of CAMA members lies in their lived experience of the barriers to girls’ education, and their philanthropy and activism, as they work with their communities to dismantle these barriers and ensure every child is educated, protected, respected and valued, and grows up to turn the tide of poverty. If you believe in what young women like Primrose are doing, join us at www.camfed.org.

Primrose Mandishona. Photo: Camfed/Jon Pilch