Global Citizens in Manitoba
Zephania Matanga grew up in Zimbabwe, the son of a farming couple with no education. At the age of five, a case of the measles left him with a permanent visual impairment. The disease has negatively affected many people in Africa, but Zephania was determined to conquer his disability through education.
“When it comes to aid, money is a helpful gift,” he says, “but it could be gone tomorrow. Education is a gift that can always be used.”
After receiving an honours degree in English from the University of Zimbabwe, Zephania came to Canada in 1992 where he obtained his PhD in Human Development and Psychology from the University of Toronto.
Zephania noticed that the economy of developing nations is readily discussed, but disability never enters into the picture, even though it plays a significant role. According to the UN, the population of Africa is roughly 800 million. Fifty million are people with disabilities, and 70 percent of people with disabilities are unemployed.
“Culturally, it is difficult for many people to speak of their disability, so 50 million is probably even much less than the actual number,” says Zephania.
To address the lack of conversation and action surrounding persons with disabilities, Zephania founded the African Canadian Disability Community Association, a Winnipeg-based organization that helps enable persons with disabilities, particularly those from ethno-racial backgrounds, to participate fully in Canadian life and also in developing countries around the globe. ACDCA’s focus is on the delivery of special education such as Braille, sign language, or assistive technology to help eliminate barriers that would normally prevent access to the classroom.
“Technology plays a very important role,” says Zephania. “Right now we are in the process of importing software into Zimbabwe that has voice output capabilities and can be configured to local languages so that those working with technology will not find it intimidating.”
ACDCA is also exploring the potential of solar energy. Zephania says it’s a user-friendly, inexpensive, and accessible way of powering the technology that helps persons with disabilities.
Both of these projects were funded by the Manitoba Government Matching Grant Program through MCIC.
Zephania is also a part-time instructor at the University of Manitoba and is happy to be helping people locally and abroad overcome their disabilities. “If you give someone education,” he says, “you give them freedom.”
Darryl Toews and Meredith Daun
It all started with a letter.
Darryl Toews, a Morden, Manitoba, high-school teacher, tells the story about reading a newspaper article about the issue of landmines in January 1996 – two years before the establishment of the international Mine Ban Treaty. The story opened his eyes to the vast international scope of the problem.
And those thoughts stuck with him, so much that he wanted to take action. He wrote a letter to then Minister of Foreign Affairs Lloyd Axworthy to encourage Canada to take action on banning landmines.
In ten years, that letter has taken Darryl from an interested but passive observer of international news to an active participant in seeking positive change. “It was the start for me in activism,” he said.
In 1999-2000, he took on an internship with the Youth Mine Action Ambassador Program, a joint initiative of Mines Action Canada, the Canadian Red Cross and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. He worked in Manitoba to raise awareness in schools and among the general public. His wife Meredith Daun served in the same role in 2000-2001. They each spent part of their internship working with landmine survivors, Darryl in Bosnia and Meredith in Cambodia.
“Meeting survivors was the best motivation for continuing what we’re doing, for doing simple things here that will make a big difference somewhere else,” he says. “We wanted to make sure that all we had done to raise awareness about landmines wouldn’t evaporate,” he said.
Those experiences led them to found the Manitoba Campaign to Ban Landmines in 2002. The organization seeks to raise awareness in Manitoba around the problem of landmines and related issues like cluster munitions.
At the Manitoba Council for Internation Cooperation’s Generating Momentum for Our World conference in November 2007, Darryl told students how he became engaged in global issues and encouraged them to do what they can to work for a better world.
“Everything you’re going to do today is what we call citizenship in action,” he said. “You’re doing very positive things to improve the world that we live in, and there’s lots more that we all can do.”