Ida’s Corner is all about caregivers – those unsung heroes who dedicate their lives to caring for the disabled, the terminally ill and the frail. However, this article is about a caregiver of a different kind. It is about a person with T4/T5 quadriplegia who has dedicated his life to caring for others. And in the process he also takes excellent care of himself; living a life that is fully integrated with society. Not only can we learn from his actions, but his attitude, his dedication to people in need and his overall joy of life are inspirational.
Takemore Muyambo was born in Chimanimani, Eastern Zimbabwe in 1980. Poverty forced him to leave school early and at the age of 17 he started working at an opencast mine near Middleburg in Mpumalanga, with aspirations of becoming a diesel mechanic. However two years later this dream was destroyed by a mining accident that shattered Takemore’s spine as well as his life, leaving him a T4/T5 quadriplegic.
Sadly, Takemore’s problems did not end here. A few months into his rehabilitation at Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria, he learned that both his parents had passed away within the space of a week. Six months later his brother also passed away. This left Takemore as the breadwinner for nine young brothers and a sister back home in Zimbabwe.
In his own words: “I was enveloped with a thick doomed darkness, not knowing what to do and which problem to handle first. All I had to say was ‘Why me, God?’ This was the moment I really needed comfort, encouragement, motivation, support, love and tender care from my parents but instead I was the one to comfort, encourage, motivate, support and love my young brothers and sister.”
His passion was to see his brothers through school. Although they received wonderful support from their community, Takemore wanted to do more. He stepped outside the comfort zone of being disabled and therefore “not being able”. He forced himself to become able, lifting his spirits with the credo: “Disability does not mean inability, but a matter of different ability.”
He started by selling off his belongings in order to put food on the table and send his brothers to school. He then attended the Rehabilitation Centre College, completing a course in Business Management. This meant that he had to leave his siblings in the care of friends and neighbours, but he made a point of being there for them over weekends. At the College he met other people with disabilities, some from other countries. He learned about life from them and his confidence grew. He started to challenge himself and discovered the sense of empowerment that came with achieving his goals.
He came to realise that he was a capable person with different abilities. “I am a man who takes the bull by its horns rather than keeping grudges in my heart. I talk the truth whenever it is needed. I do not fight fire with fire because I know I will end up in ashes. I am able to detect a deficit and take corrective measures to avoid or reduce its impact. I have an ‘I can do it’ mindset.”
Takemore’s first job was as a store man for a multinational company. A year later his entrepreneurial spirit started to emerge. He noticed how other disabled persons in the community were often neglected by their families, so he started a “poultry project” as a supplier of chicken meat and eggs in support of other disabled people, sourcing funds and materials from various organisations. He started small, with a team of only five people, but it increased to 20 within a year. The demand for their products also grew and soon they were supplying to boarding schools, government hospitals and workers from the surrounding companies.
After three years of running the project, Takemore was voted as Project Coordinator for Social Welfare for the Manicaland Province in Zimbabwe. In his own words: “It was my passion, dedication and commitment that made me become a project coordinator. I held gatherings with disabled people in the various districts, teaching them to be self-reliant, motivating them, helping them to start business projects, representing them at the Ministry of Social Welfare, supervising their project progress, and teaching them about financial management and bookkeeping. I managed to form more than twenty groups in Manicaland doing different projects, like sewing, gardening, raising poultry, bread-making, buying and selling, catering and creating drama groups to entertain people.”
In 2008, a medical crisis brought Takemore to South Africa. Life here was tough at first, but then he met Skhumbuzo, who helped him in his day-to-day life, offered him a job as bookkeeper and became a mentor.
After a stint at a staffing solutions recruitment company, Takemore’s entrepreneurial spirit kicked in again. In 2013, he bought a computer and printer and started a photocopying, scanning and printing business. He also helped clients to write business plans, manage cash flow and draw up their curriculum vitae, using his own experience to assist them to find jobs through posting adverts on different websites and sending CVs to various recruitment agencies. Since starting this venture, he has helped more than 90 people who are currently working in South Africa and neighbouring countries.
Takemore is currently taking a course in entrepreneurship, sponsored by someone who has appreciated his remarkable abilities.
Let him have the final word: “Truthfully, my community is my university where I graduated with a high degree of responsibility, conducting myself diligently and well, forgive and forget, accept people as they are and be patient. I firmly put logs in my ears when people come to me with negative minds and opinions. I do not want to be a burden to my family and friends, so I stand up on my own, going forward to be independent and also to help others who really need my assistance.”
Ida’s Corner is a regular column by George Louw, who qualified as a medical doctor, but, due to a progressing spastic paralysis, he chose a career in health administration. The column is named after Ida Hlongwa, who worked as caregiver for Ari Seirlis for 20 years. Her charm, smile, commitment, quality care and sacrifice set the bar incredibly high for the caregiving fraternity.