Looking at her pictures, Maria Dube – a 30-year-old woman from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe – looks like a beauty queen. Nothing about them reveal the type of work she loves doing. She has come a long way since her teenage years which she says nearly broke her.
“It all began one morning when I was 13,” Maria told The Weight She Carries. “When I tried to wake up, I couldn’t move my feet. I assumed I had not slept [in the] right position. So I decided to crawl and go where my mum was. My mum decided to call some of our close relatives to take me to hospital.”
The sudden paralysis was baffling. Doctors conducted a few tests but nothing was of help since all the tests were negative. She was advised to do an MRI scan, which her mother couldn’t afford.
“The doctor [suggested] that I do physiotherapy. That is when I realized I might have a big problem because each time I did the recommended exercises, I became worse,” she said.
Maria was overwhelmed and suffered depression and migraines. She did not know that her being in the hospital was a blessing in disguise.
“It was like my world had ended,” Maria said. “My mother, siblings and aunties have always been my support system through it all, and I have managed to put everything in God’s hands.”
“During the time I was in hospital, there was a white couple from Australia that [was] visiting and praying around the ward. When it was their turn to pray for me on my bed, they did more than that,” she said. “They fell in love with me after I told them what I had been through. They said I had a fighting spirit and took my contact details to keep in touch.”
I didn’t put it in mind that one day they [would] call me. Months after I had been discharged, I received a phone call from them saying they wanted to introduce me to people who’ll train me [in] fish and crocodile farming.”Maria Dube
It was the beginning of a whole new adventure for Maria who said, “I was introduced to two gentleman who were very patient with me. On the first day, I was very scared but overcame my fear. To my surprise, I fell in love with training crocodiles more than fish. It’s a challenge most people wouldn’t want [to take on].”
Maria underwent training from July to December 2014 and excelled.
“Training was challenging and overwhelming but taught me that even though I am disabled, I can do something which a ‘normal’ human being cannot do,” she said.
She is now a highly sought-after crocodile trainer who travels to South Africa when she gets booking from farmers.
Maria still struggles with her right leg to this day. She uses a crutch to help support her leg.
“My experience has taught me not to fear anything because it [appears] dangerous. At times, it’s the fear in our minds that makes us vulnerable.”Maria Dube
In 2019, she launched a foundation called Tsalach, which empowers disabled and underprivileged people.
“My vision for 2020 is to reach 2000 individuals and be helpful to them,” she said.
She advises young women that disability is in the mind of a person, not a state of physical challenge.