My name is Alinafe. I am a girl with disabilities in speech and my legs.
I came to know about the Ifenso project through my community village bank which aims to support girls, young women and children. Our leader Stella was the one who introduced me and my other two friends to Ifenso through Theatre for a Change.
We got involved with the project as theatre performers, mainly to raise awareness on girls’ and young women’s rights. My fellow story-developers decided to give me the main character as the protagonist in the story. My responsibility was to portray the exact issues which were happening in our communities and other communities [in relation to young women and girls with disabilities].
What I learned from working on this project
I had a great experience with Ifenso being my first time to be directly involved in matters that affect us as people with disabilities. I was excited to learn that we were going to be the ones to speak out for ourselves and others girls who facing similar challenges. I really enjoyed the experience because the team never treated me like a beneficiary but rather as a partner in the project to achieve the goal of the project.
My experience with Ifenso has taught me a number of things. I have learnt to be confident in myself and to believe in myself. For the first time in my life, people looked at me and saw me as a complete human being regardless of my disabilities unlike before when people looked at me as disabled. The project taught me that what my community saw in me as a burden to my parents and a failure to the community was all a lie.
The project gave me a platform to exercise my rights and also to demand my rights from my communities as well as my family wherever necessary. It is through this project where I have learnt types of abuse. I have also learnt to distinguish between empathy and sympathy. I don’t like to be sympathized. I like to be treated as equal and normal.
How the project impacted other people’s lives
I believe people have also learnt from the project. A practical example is my family. My mother had some reservations when it came to letting me out of our home. She thought I was safer in the house rather than outside. She restricted my movement, but through the project, I learnt that I was being deprived of my freedom. I spoke to my family about it, and they understood. I now move around without them being worried about my safety or feeling ashamed. The Ifenso project saved me from being locked inside.
People have also learnt that one can be a person with a disability yet productive at the same time. A person with a disability can contribute to the development of the society just like any other person. People have also learnt that we as people with disabilities need to be protected from any kind of abuse just like any other person. Other parents have also learnt best and practical ways to support their children with disabilities to achieve their dreams.
How this project impacted my life
At first I was little bit reserved in the project. I knew it was my opportunity to share our experiences, mainly the challenges that we face as girls with disabilities, but I didn’t have the courage. There was a point when I thought of backing down from the group, but my mother encouraged me to give it try.
Eventually, I shared my story to the team. I was so overwhelmed with their positive reaction. They asked me if it was okay to dramatise some of the events in my story, and I agreed. I thought it was an opportunity that comes once in a blue moon. I wanted to make a difference, to change other girls’ lives for the better. It was my time to speak up for myself, for them and for all of us. I now pose as a role model in my community. People call me by my character name which makes me proud of what I have achieved.
It is through the project that parents in communities have the knowledge of the responsibility they have towards their children with disabilities such as sending them to school and avoid locking them in the house and depriving them of their rights. Malawian communities now understand that we are humans, not burdens, and we deserve equal opportunities.
My hopes for the future
I honestly feel like this project should not end. I would like to see more and more impact. I would like to see more lives being impacted, more behaviours changed and also to increase the catchment area so that we can reach a lot more people.
I also feel like we should reach the policy makers and private sectors for them to understand that we need equal opportunities in employment and businesses. This is also based on an experience with my friend who was withdrawn from joining the police because of her albinism condition.
It is very important for people to hear stories like mine because it is through these kinds of stories that mindsets can be changed towards girls and young women with disabilities. If not for stories like mine, changing behaviours and attitudes towards people with disabilities is almost impossible.
My final words are to thank Theatre for a Change for this kind of project where they thought of us, and involved us to tell our own stories without impersonating us. I was so privileged to be able to share my story, and I am looking forward to working with TfaC in future projects so that we can change more lives.
Above all, thank you for overlooking my disabilities and trusting me to advocate for the rights of girls and young women with disabilities in various communities through theatre.
I wanted to make a difference, to change other girls’ lives for the better. It was my time to speak up…