Where there is no rehabilitation

The Transkei is one of the most rural parts of our country, where access to disability support and services are hard to come by. Yet, there are some remarkable people who find innovative ways to regain their independence.

A young paraplegic, a member of the Madwaleni Hospital Wheelchair Basket-ball team recently passed away. His funeral caused me to reflect on his life and left me in awe of his tenacity and achievements. This is his story – may it inspire you to be part of the change we demand from the world around us.

Tendani (alias) grew up in a rural village near Eliotdale. He had a passion for cars and bought a beat-up old bakkie which he and his uncle spent hours working. His passion became a taxi business, to and from the hospital and around town but in 2000 he was shot, left with a complete T12 SCI. With virtually no rehab in the region he found his own way to get back his life.

When I met him eight years later he was still running his taxi business having employed a driver, and was driving himself, using two walking sticks on the pedals. He did not drive passengers though, this was for his own independence.

He used mud, and cow-dung, to build ramps into every hut on his family’s homestead, making his home accessible with resources at hand.

He was the life of the party and very generous with his kindness, his smile and what little finances he had. He was a community man that everybody knew and loved.

This is what was remembered and spoken about by his family and friends at his funeral. Not his wheelchair nor his disability – to us he was not disabled – and when you looked at him, you did not see the chair. With his personality and attitude anyone who met him saw him as the guy who loved cars and laughter and was good to his family.

At traditional Xhosa funerals the loved one’s body is viewed in a small room by friends and family before it is brought out for the funeral.

Some of Tendani’s closest friends, from wheelchair basketball found the room inaccessible so the process was adapted and they were able to view his body in the open air and say farewell. The marquee, filled to the brim with the community, was made accessible for his friends by leaving big, open spaces at the front.

His ability to make his own dreams come true influenced the perceptions of the community and paved the way for those with disabilities who come after him. They will find greater awareness, less stigma, people who see past disability and expect them to take control of their lives.

My hope is that the ripple effect of this man’s life will be transported, breaking down social barriers and inspiring others to believe that nothing is impossible if you are willing to think outside of the box.

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