With a huge smile on her face, 11-year-old Portia Kasuso rode her donated hand-pedalled wheelchair through the crowd as United Methodist Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa and his cabinet followed along in recession.
Portia was born with a disability and deserted by her mother at age 3. She has never been to school yet dreams of becoming a teacher.
Children like Portia often don’t have the opportunity to get an education because the schools in rural areas don’t have the facilities to accommodate those with disabilities.
For the past decade, all Portia has known is crawling around the family’s homestead in rural Chemapango.
“I could only crawl around our yard, until I received a wheelchair donation from Baba Bareyi,” said an elated Portia, speaking of Raphael Bareyi, a member of Harare Inner City United Methodist Church who donated the wheelchair. “Now, I can ride!”
Bareyi has donated wheelchairs, which cost about $240, to the elderly and disabled in various congregations throughout Zimbabwe.
“Portia really touched my heart when we visited her and I felt the urge to do something about it,” Bareyi said.
Nhiwatiwa commended the gesture as the practical work of Jesus in raising the less privileged in our time.
“We have read in Scripture: Jesus Christ raised the lame and crippled. The wheelchair donation is the ‘rise up and walk’ of our time, using modern technology,” he said.
While the bishop spoke, Portia scanned her eyes around in awe at the 4,000-strong congregation that converged for the Zimbabwe West Conference’s Rukwadzano Rwe Wadzimai North women’s convention at Murewa camping ground.
Over 20,000 United Methodists, mostly women, attend these mega revivals, which take place in four different locations: Murewa, Clare, Nyambeya and Mvuma.
“Having Portia at this revival is evidence of how much the church can become a home for all people in spite of their conditions,” Nhiwatiwa said.
The Rev. Nyevero Musekiwa, pastor of the Chivake North Circuit in Murewa, said Portia’s smile tells it all.
“Portia just had the best day of her life. This is her second-ever chance to attend a church service, and indeed it must be overwhelming for her.”
Musekiwa met Portia during a pastoral visit in her community. He was impressed by the young girl and arranged transport for her to attend her first church service, where she was baptized and received Holy Communion.
“I was deeply moved by the plight of this young girl and told myself that something must be done,” he said.
“In our African culture, people still attach stigma to children born with disability and I think that is what drove my wife away and left me to look after my daughter.
“But, I accepted her as a gift from God and I believe she is just like every child,” he said.
For the next three years, Kasuso doubled as father and mother.
“Daily, I would feed, bathe and dress my child until I remarried,” he said.
His new wife, Chioneso Gazhawa, stepped in to help and worked to get Portia a birth certificate.
“I have come to accept Portia just like every other child and I have committed myself to give her the same love I give my own three children,” her stepmother said.
Despite the care that Portia gets from her family, she has lived in isolation from her peers.
“No one comes to play with me,” said Portia, leaning forward as she wiggled into a comfortable position on her wheelchair seat, “but I will look for them riding my wheelchair.”
Gazhawa said the jovial young girl demonstrates high intellectual and physical abilities in spite of her condition.
“She now can count, sweep her room, recall and sing songs from her first church service. … She needs some support to go to a school for the physically challenged.”
The bishop called on the church and other well-wishers to pick her up and help her achieve her dreams.
Appropriate schools are nearly 100 kilometers (about 62 miles) away in Harare, so Portia would need to be educated at a place with boarding facilities, which would cost anywhere from $1,500 to $2,000.
“The wheelchair is only the beginning. Portia must go to school like other children. May we call for individuals, the church and those with a heart for mission to bless her with the best education,” he said.
Maforo is a pastor and communicator with the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area.
News media contact: Vicki Brown at 615-742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.