Wonderful inspiring work in rehabilitation of disabled Africans
Jairos Jiri, belongs to one of Rhodesia’s top families. His forebears were not so much chiefs as makers of chiefs, the power behind one of the ancient thrones of Central Africa. He thus has a family tradition of service, of purpose, or responsibility. As a young migrant to Bulawayo in 1939 he was shocked by the plight of the blind begging in the streets. Their lost dignity was an affront to humanity, his, theirs, everyone’s. As a steward in an RAF mess, he learnt of the work of St. Dunstans for the war-blinded and determined that the civilian blind should be equally helped to gain or regain a place in society. For some years after the war he carried on his own private campaign, trying to have those who crossed his path sent back home to be cared for by their relatives and friends. He found this an unrewarding task for they had no-one to care for them – to care for themselves they would have to learn a trade and be taught to be self-reliant.
In 1951 with a few friends, he founded the Bulawayo and Bikita Society – Bikita his ancestral home, Bulawayo the city of his adoption. They raised money to send the blind to the Dutch Reformed Mission school at Copota near Fort Victoria. Later, with the help of Bulawayo City Council, they started trade training for cripples in a disused eating house. The work grew, the Society changed its name to The African Society for the Blind and Physically Handicapped to emphasise its wider scope and concepts. In 1961, the Society adopted the name of its Founder, by which it was already popularly referred to. In 1958, the Society moved to its new site with purpose-built dormitories and workshops.
Mr. Jiri was awarded the M.B.E by Her Majesty, the Queen, in 1959 in recognition of his outstanding services.
And still the work grew and was transformed from a local project to an undertaking of national proportions. The Bulawayo centre became more streamlined and specialised – the old and untrainable were settled at Silobela, the deaf and dumb school was moved to Gwelo, and plans were made to transfer the school and treatment centre for crippled children to Salisbury. At this point the society came into contact with another African society that had been founded in the capital city of Salisbury and well-wishers, such as the State Lottery Trustees who generously supported them both, suggested that the work would benefit from a pooling of resources.
In 1957, the African Physically Defective Society was founded in Salisbury by a group of public-minded men and women. It concentrated initially on care and treatment of disabled children. In 1960 it changed its name to the Salisbury Society for Handicapped Africans. As the work grew, so did the need for a properly built centre, and in this respect their aim coincided with their friends on the other side of the country. After much discussion, the two societies agreed to form a single association, and the Jairos Jiri Association was inaugurated in 1962.
Meanwhile, in 1958, Mrs, Clutton Brock opened a small clinic at St. Faith’s Mission near Rusape where her husband, Guy Clutton Brock, was farming. She soon became absorbed in the care of the handicapped children brought to her door. With the help of the Rhodesian Society for the Blind, and the Beit Trust, the Mukuwapasi centre was established. Mrs. Clutton Brock passed her skills on to a willing pupil and assistant, Miss Margaret Shumba, and when she left St. Faith’s, on the dissolution of the community centre in 1960, she was able to leave her work safely in the hands of Miss Shumba (later Mrs. Chiwandamira). While it debated is future, the clinic linked itself to the African Society in Bulawayo, and when the new society was formed, it opted to join it as the Manicaland branch of the Jairos Jiri Association.
By 1975 there were centres in Bulawayo, Fort Victoria, Gwanda, Gwelo (Naran Centre), Que Que (Silobela), Rusape (Mukuwapasi Clinic) and Salisbury. In addition there were centres in various stages of completion at Salisbury (Gleneagles), Plumtree (Ingwesi) and Zimunya. There are also Craft Shops at Umtali, Victoria Falls and Beitbridge.
From humble beginnings has grown a large organisation that is probably unique in Africa – an organisation for the relief of suffering black humanity launched and sustained by an African with the minimum of formal education, run almost entirely by Africans with similar ideals.
The growth of the Jairos Jiri Association was evolved from a mixture of compassion, tempered with drive and determination. It has also required the gift of leadership as possessed by such a remarkable man as Jairos Jiri. He has brought hope and given a new meaning to life for hundreds of his handicapped fellow Africans.
The above account is taken from the Association’s own publications.
James Robertson, Medical Superindendent of Salisbury Central Hospital, recounts the story of some of the Jairos Jiri centres ….
In the years immediately after the 2nd World War, there was frequently to be seen, making his way purposefully to the surgical wards of the old African Hospital in Bulawayo, a burly African with a wide smile and cheerful word for everybody. He was Jairos Jiri, now Mr. Jairos Jiri M.B.E., the founder and life president of the Jairos Jiri Association for Rehabilitation of the Disabled and Blind.
In those days Mr. Jiri’s visits to the hospital were usually about some cripple whom he had found dragging out a miserable existence in some distant kraal and whom, after much persuasion, he had brought into Bulawayo, often on the carrier of his bicycle, in order to find out whether modern surgical methods, which were still looked upon somewhat fearfully by the African population, could offer a chance of healing him to a point where he might reasonably hope to earn his own living and make his way in the world.
It was not very long before a number of Jiri’s protégées had in fact been salvaged and were ready to leave the hospital. At this point an almost insuperable difficulty arose: there existed no sort of organisation whatsoever to provide the training and the physical rehabilitation that these people needed. Jairos Jiri saw this need and dedicated his life to the provision of what was necessary.
The first essential was to raise money. This was done by eliciting the support of some African musicians, who banded themselves together and gave concerts and music-hall turns in the Bulawayo African townships. The proceeds of these shows were turned over to Jairos to be used for the furtherance of his plans, and he very wisely decided at am early stage to get official Government and Municipal support. Trusts were opened for the funds collected.
This was the genesis of the Jairos Jiri Association, which can now justifiably claim to be a national body with the whole of Rhodesia as the field of its activity.
For many years, Jairos Jiri confined his activities entirely to the Bulawayo area. With the help of the Municipality, workshop space was lent, and handicapped Africans were taught such trades as shoe-making and repairing, basket work and leathercraft. Space soon became inadequate, and extra buildings were erected.
Before long it was found necessary to provide for the education of handicapped children, and a school had to be added.
Much work had also to be done among employers in order to persuade them that, when fully trained, a handicapped employee can be worthy of his hire, provided the job he is given is carefully assessed in relation to his capabilities. Thus it was that from small beginnings, the centre in Bulawayo grew into the present organisation which has of late years has become of such interest to visitors to Rhodesia.
As an example of the type of case handled in the earlier years, Lazarus Kumalo comes to mind.
Having suffered a joint infection in infancy, this young African was completely crippled. One hip joint had been destroyed and fused by the disease, leaving him with the leg so bent that the knee was against his chest. The other hip was dislocated, and, although movement was possible, the leg could not straighten sufficiently to be of any use in walking.
Living far from medical aid as he did, Kumalo got himself two forked sticks from the bush, and his only method of progress was to use these rough crutches and move himself slowly along in a sitting position, his legs curled up to his chin. This was his condition when, at the age of 18, he heard that people were being made to walk in Bulawayo, and he set off on the long journey alone, to see whether anything could be done for him.
One will never forget the delight that came into his intelligent face when he was told that there was a good chance that he could be got to walk in a reasonably normal fashion, but that it would need a series of operations. Lazarus underwent surgery with great patience and courage, which he felt to well rewarded some nine months later, when he was able to walk upright with a pair of ordinary crutches.
After a year, he was able to discard crutches and use an ordinary walking stick. He discovered a talent for carving in wood and stone, at the Cyrene Art School and later became an instructor in wood-carving at the Jairos Jiri Centre. One of my proud possessions is a stone carving of an iguana, the first work that Lazarus produced, which was sent as an expression of gratitude for his surgical treatment.
There are many others who, without modern surgery followed by rehabilitative treatment and vocational training, would still be immobile and, in their distant homes, dragging out a a dreary existence, barely tolerated by their relatives and always conscious that they were a burden on the community.
For the surgical and nursing staff of a hospital there are fewer specialties more rewarding than the successful treatment of such physically handicapped people. To work with the knowledge that one is restoring to these people their self-respect and giving them their chance to participate in ordinary life and earn their own living and independence, is indeed a privilege.
In Rhodesia the initial surgical treatment required in such cases is provided free of charge to the African people in Government hospitals. Surgical treatment however is but the beginning of the rehabilitation programme, and the essential after-care and training has become the province of the Jairos Jiri Association. The original Bulawayo centre is to develop particularly the aspect of workshop vocational training. In Salisbury it is intended that there will come into being a centre primarily for the younger group; a hostel has been taken over near Rusape, between Salisbury and Umtali to cater for the severely crippled pre-school child; while at Silobela, outside Gwelo, a centre cares for those who will be unable to fend for themselves.
These essential services will require large-scale financial help. The Rhodesia Government is sympathetic and helpful, and the general public in Rhodesia has also contributed generously. But for the full realisation of the Society’s aims it will be necessary to look for assistance to the large international trust funds in Britain and America, whose support has made possible the development of similar projects in many other parts of the world.
Mr Robertson’s account first appeared in 1964
Jairos Jiri 1921 – 1982