UNDERSTANDING HIS OWN INJURY TO HELP OTHERS THROUGH THEIRS
Amos Mzimeli uses his own injury as motivation to help other people
Left paralysed by a serious rugby injury in his youth, Amos Mzimeli, 46, opened the first disability centre in his Soto village near Haga Haga in 2014
Left paralysed by a serious rugby injury in his youth, Amos Mzimeli, 46, opened the first disability centre in his Soto village near Haga Haga in 2014.
Starting out with 24 beneficiaries in a tattered community hall, Mzimeli devoted his time and energy to empowering disabled people as well as creating awareness around the stigmatisation, neglect and abuse they often endure.
“Many people with disabilities are excluded from society and are prevented from accessing their basic rights.
“More than 18% of disabled black children live in poor areas and don’t have access to health care or education. There are so many daycare centres in this area but the disabled kids are excluded from crèche and schools because there are no teachers willing to teach them,” said Mzimeli.
While doing his research to establish the centre in 2011, Mzimeli said when he saw what it was like in his own community he realised there was a huge need for a facility which catered solely for disabled people.
He said that many disabled people suffered emotional, sexual and physical abuse at the hands of the community and they were often neglected by their families.
“They grow up to be disempowered adults. They are seen as incapable or as a burden to those around them and often do not have any support or motivation. We’ve intervened in many cases of abuse as well, and before this centre there was nowhere for disabled people to go for help.”
His centre is now situated in a new and improved hall at the entrance to Soto and it caters to over 100 disabled people from the village and surrounds.
Mzimeli said it was the only disability centre in the Great Kei Municipality, which includes five townships and 16 villages.
From awareness campaigns to training courses, meals, wheelchairs and home-based care, the centre operates as a motivational hub for disabled people in the community.
It is a registered NPO and is run by Mzimeli and five caregivers. Courses and learnerships in computer literacy and business studies, as well as skills such as beadwork and weaving are taught at the centre.
Mzimeli broke his neck during a tackle while playing flank for his school rugby team when he was 18. He was left unable to use his legs and his fingers.
At the time, he believed his life was over. But he has been married for almost 18 years, blessed with three children and now runs his own NPO.
“I slipped and lost my balance and made head-to-head contact with my opponent. I think what made the injury worse was a lack of knowledge from those who tried to assist.
“They moved me straight away and transported me to the hospital on the back of a bakkie,” he said.
During his time in hospital, Mzimeli was supported by the Chris Burger Player’s Fund, which assists injured rugby players emotionally, physiologically and socially.
Through the project, Mzimeli completed a computer literacy diploma.
“I really need to thank the Chris Burger project.
“They helped me to see the light at the end of the tunnel after my injury, and I want to do the same for others with this centre,” said Mzimeli.
Siphokazi Khuphiso, 30, who is in a wheelchair and is a regular visitor at the centre, said: “It’s really helped me a lot. I’m doing a business venture learnership and I’m learning new skills. I feel really empowered when I come here and I don’t feel so alone.”
Mzimeli said: “I want to see people with disabilities live productively and independently if possible.
“I want them to have freedom of choice and to be accepted in society. I can already see that change now with many people in this village and I hope to see more of it.”