When she was nine months old, Primrose was taken out to the fields by her mother and grandmother. While they went to work, Primrose and her sister stayed in a hut where they would be safe from baboons and other animals. Primrose’s mother came back to find the hut on fire. Her elder daughter had dragged Primrose outside, but the burning thatch falling down on the baby had caused life-changing burns.
“I can’t recall the pain, but now because of the pain I see in other children, I know it was painful. I now understand the severity of my burns.”
Primrose developed contractures, which affected her posture, and had to endure many years of hospital treatment. Living with a disability was not her only challenge; coming from a poverty-stricken family was a big limitation and made completing her education uncertain.
This is when CAMFED stepped in and supported Primrose to go to secondary school. She started feeling more optimistic about her future and excelled in her lessons. Though she suffered cruel taunts from some of the other children, her academic success gave her the will to persevere with her schooling.
“I have been given the chance and this is me now.”
From a young age, Primrose had decided that she would achieve just as much as her peers. She did not let her disability define her; but her experience has made her a passionate and empathetic activist for others in her situation.
When she graduated from secondary school, Primrose became a founding member of the CAMFED Association. Founded in Harare, Zimbabwe in 1998 by the first 400 young women who had received support from CAMFED, it is now a powerful movement across sub-Saharan Africa. With her fellow CAMFED Association members, Primrose is plowing back the benefits of her education into her community. She is a beacon of hope for young people living with disabilities, leading by example.
The treatment Primrose received at the physiotherapy department as a child helped her achieve her independence, and inspired her to become a physiotherapist herself. She tenaciously applied to college until she was eventually accepted. Today she is a rehabilitation technician drawing on her own experiences to help others reach their potential.
“When I am treating children with burns… I will show them my scars and they are happier. It becomes much easier for them, and for us to treat them.”
Primrose at a meeting with fellow CAMFED Association members (Photo: CAMFED/Jon Pilch)
Primrose with a patient, in her role as a rehabilitation technician (Photo: CAMFED/Mark Read)
Primrose has learned that having a supportive family and community play a vital role in the lives of children with disabilities. She is beginning to see society recognising the potential these children hold, and works to ensure that more opportunities open up to them, and that the stigma often surrounding disability is broken down.
In April 2018, Primrose was a speaker at the British Embassy’s Disability Summit in Zimbabwe. In the same year she was invited to participate in the first ever Global Disability Summit, held in the United Kingdom. Primrose spoke one-to-one with the Secretary of State for International Development, Penny Mordaunt, during a plenary session attended by hundreds of delegates from around the world.
She highlighted the double disadvantage of girls living with disabilities. In her rural district, gender inequality and the many barriers to girls’ education - cost, distance, risk of violence, and lack of confidence - are multiplied by disability. CAMFED Association members and their communities, with the backing of international donor partners, are stepping up to ensure that the most marginalized are not left behind.
“A supportive community is so important for children with disabilities. Once there is no discrimination, they can excel.”
Primrose encourages simple and inexpensive adaptations in homes and schools. For example, commissioning a carpenter to construct a specially-adapted corner chair in the homes of children with cerebral palsy, or making parallel bars from local gum tree poles so her patients can continue their exercises at home.
Used as part of a holistic rehabilitation process, these low-tech options can reduce or even reverse the physical impairments that Primrose treats in her patients.
As a respected healthcare professional and public speaker, Primrose - together with all our leaders in the CAMFED Association - is blazing a trail for women and girls across rural Africa.
“Disability should not be an obstacle to success! My desire for every child with a disability is access to education.”