Two days ago I got a text message from George, the headteacher at Simakakata Community School in Zambia, telling me that a friend of his who I had the honour of meeting a few times had died. Shabby Aongola lived in the small compound of huts just a few hundred yards from the school, which is home to the blind and disabled community of Simakakata. Shabby was the voice of that community, he was a representative on the school PTA, took their concerns to the local chief, liaised with the church authorities and negotiated deals for help from local NGOs and organisations like Care.
It’s my understanding – and I may be wrong – that until Shabby arrived at Simakakata from an even more rural village further south, there was no provision or care for the disabled in the area. Working with the local church he helped to get funds for the compound, and encouraged them to act collectively. He helped to educate people about their rights and organise the delivery of the state benefits to which they are entitled but rarely received. A soft spoken, serious man, he was their agitator-in-chief and earned them respect in a country which rarely even recognises they exist.
Shabby was blind – and I regret never asking him why, I assume he suffered from trachoma – as is his wife, who suirvives him. Together they maintained a small allotment-sized strip next to their hut on which they grew corn and kept chickens. They also raised a family: two daughters, the beautiful Holiness and Universe. Both children were enrolled in Simakakata school the first time I met them. The last time I saw Shabby, Universe was just about to start middle school in Kalomo, 7Km away. He was distressed because he didn’t have the £20 needed for her term fees, without which she was unable to start school.
Naturally I helped him out – getting his daughters (who are both completely healthy) an education was one of the most important things to Shabby. He was one of the driving forces in getting Simakakata school established before George arrived. Having a school nearby was essential for the disabled community, who are dependent on the healthy children to look after them. Either the children wouldn’t have been educated, or the parents would have to follow them to Kalomo and probably ended up begging on the streets. The school directly enabled the people of Shabby’s community retain their dignity and standard of living.
So it was going to hurt, sending Universe away. But Shabby’s pride in his daughter’s achievement overcame all. I have no idea what’s going to happen to the family now. I wish them the best, I fear for the worst. My thoughts are with them.
Apparently Shabby was taken ill quickly, and deteriorated over a short period of time. A horrible reminder that while I have many happy memories of Simakakata, and hope to visit again soon, life is impossibly unfair and hard for many of the people who live there. You can read more about Simakakata school at the LearnAsOne website. I encourage you all to donate if you can.
He’ll be missed by all who knew him.