Imagine waking up and one of your senses is no more. All of a sudden you can no longer see, walk, hear or talk. The world becomes shallow and every light becomes dimmer by the second. To make it worse, you now have to face the judges of society as every potential in you is limited by your disability.
This is what Soini Tjipura had to make peace with decades ago when she became blind. Although some disabilities are more visible than others, Tjipura is testimony that disability does not mean inability. Society needs to stop ostracizing those with disabilities because able-bodied and their disabled counterparts all have a role to play in society.
Soini lost her sight at the age of five to measles. The contagious infection was not detected early enough due to the lack of health services back then. “At the time, hospitals were far and families did not have the funds to travel. They used to apply goat milk to the eye but my condition was so severe that the home remedy did little to help the situation,” narrated Soini.
Losing her sight at a young age was a turning point in her life because she had to adapt to a new way of life devoid of her sight. She joined the Eluwa Special School in Ongwediva where she learned to master her new path. “Life was difficult because losing sight meant I had limits. One was treated different especially at home.”
Due to the fact that she now could not see, many took it as an opportunity to turn her misery into a game. Not only did she have to adapt but also at the receiving end from those who chose to make fun of her condition
“When you eat, people would take your plate away. Sometimes they would stand in front of you so you bump into them or put a stone in your way so you trip and fall. If you are with mean people, they can even cook and eat without inviting you because you cannot see them after all.”
Soini adds that since she was at a special school, they would once in a while get new clothes from donations. However, other children would take her clothes or replace her new clothes with the old when she went for out-weekends.
“This did not discourage me from taking on life with my situation. I learned to be independent from a young age because I realized I could not always count on people.”
As a teenager, Soini was one of the lucky learners selected to pursue a career in teaching at the Malcolm Moffat College of Education in Zambia where she obtained her two-year Certificate in Primary Teaching grade one to seven. In 2000, she started doing what she has long loved – teaching at the School for the Visually Impaired. Three years later, she enhanced her education by registering for a Basic Education Teachers Diploma at the College of Education in Windhoek. She graduated in 2003.
Soini is not only testament that disability is not reciprocal to inability but her life brings about change in perception that people with disabilities across the country are also capable of making a contribution to society. With 16 years of teaching experience, Soini said she mastered her way around the school, to and from home all alone.
“I live in Soweto and come to work and back home all by myself. The taxi would drop me at the four-way stop by Friedels in Khomasdal and I will walk to school all by myself. I did not want to be the kind who depends on people because I know very well that it could be frustrating to the second person.”
In the morning hustle for taxis to work, Soini refuses to play victim. She would walk with her white cane stick to the bus stop and wait for a taxi. “With the people who can see, I would also be there shouting ‘Khomasdal Friedels and compete to get taxi.”
With the assistance of her cane stick, Soini has learned to do most things by herself. “I know where Shoprite is when I need to go do my shopping. I know how to get to the service station, the bank and even Ackermans[clothing store].”
Soini adds that while many may wonder how the blind manage from day to day without sight, she said the void left by the shortcomings in the lives of those living with disabilities are left in God’s hands. The other thing I have realized is that while many and even your own will ignore you, there will always be someone with the heart to help.”
With a disability like that of being visually challenged, many have been confronted with the bitter reality of being limited to many opportunities. She is of the opinion that when government speaks of disadvantaged people, this group is devoid of people with disabilities and often they are left out. “I bet government has not even employed more than 50 people with disabilities. People do not want to employ us simply because they do not see any worth of us. But it makes me think of life in general. Does this mean if a minister is to get into an accident today and loses their sight they will now leave parliament because they cannot see? Or is the discrimination just applied for a few? We want employers to start being accommodative to the disabled,” said Soini.
She calls on society to approach the disability subject with the understanding that all persons are equal besides what they may be deprived of by life. “Nobody applies to have a disability nor to be born with one.”
Soini is a mother of two sons who are not blind. And with her happy family, she has learned to make peace with every punch society throws. “I have learned to be tolerant and patient to all those who judge. One never knows what life has for us the following day and I need not to worry because we are all equal in the eyes of the Lord.”
Over the years, she has developed an interest in helping people, adding that she plans to do social work in the future.
“I believe life still has a lot to offer and I refuse to sit idle while life goes on.”