My Journey Living with Dyslexia
I am the first child in a family of six children and was born in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city. For a good part of my life my parents were domestic workers of very limited means. They were hard working descent folks that valued education even though they had very little education themselves.
We were sent to my grandparents in rural Zimbabwe at an early age so that my parents could work to put us through school.
Life was tough in the rural areas. We had some good and bad times but I mostly remember the bad ones for these are the ones that left an indelible mark on me.
I started my education in rural areas of Matabeleland in Zimbabwe. I was not a particularly intelligent pupil.
And because I was dull my teachers hated me. I was consistent in one thing; being the worst pupil in all my classes for the first five years of my primary education.
My grade one teacher beat me frequently because I could not read and write. In fact one time she beat me so hard that my bottom bled and I had problems sitting for days. My grandfather was livid and was stopped from confronting the teacher by my grandmother who was convinced this would worsen my life at school.
Spelling was a nightmare for me. The whole thing actually never made any sense to me. I discovered later on in life that I am dyslexic. I suspect my teachers never knew that such a condition existed.
My pregnant fourth grade teacher could not stand my face. She accused me of being very ugly, an accusation which I continue to deny up to this day. And I am sure present company today agrees with me. She would make me sit with my back to the rest of the class because she said she did not want to give birth to a child as ugly as me.
With the benefit of hindsight I suspect that if I had been a bright student she might not have treated me the way she did. Life is hard when you are dyslexic and your teacher thinks you are ugly.
My first 4 years of education scarred me in a big way. I developed a negative attitude towards school and education. My fear of going to school and lack of interest in education were dominating conditions during my formative years. I became shy and introverted with no confidence at all to face the world.
The physical, verbal and emotional abuse from my primary school teachers affected my esteem. The quality of the education was faulty and handicapped me considerably. My dyslexia caused my teachers to ignore my learning needs. As a result, this foundational part of my education did not adequately equip me for my long learning journey. l battle with reading, writing and comprehension and have problems with spelling. l battle with bouts of acute self-doubt.
– The words we say to others can build or destroy
– Teachers have a huge impact on who and what we become in life; but that should not stand in the way of our dreams
– A sound foundational education is the bedrock of successful people and societies
– Africa needs well trained teachers to succeed, particularly in rural areas where the majority still reside; sadly these are short in supply
I moved to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city for my 5th grade and my life began to take a turn for the better. The man responsible for this turn-around was my 6th and 7th Grade Teacher Mr Bafundi Mpofu. Mr Mpofu was the first person in my entire life to tell me that I had potential and that I could be whatever l wanted. He spotted something in me that all my teachers this far had failed to notice and that I had been told so many times did not exist.
I was accustomed to being told that I was ugly, dull and that I would never amount to anything and I believed this. Were it not for this man I doubt I would have gone beyond primary school. You have Mr Mpofu to thank for this eloquent presence. He kept repeating and after 2 years I started believing that I was good and that I would become somebody in life. But I had been damaged already and it would take years to reverse some of this.
– Teachers can build or destroy lives
– We all need someone who believes in us
– We all need affirmation
– Good teachers are an indispensable part of building strong societies
Because of Mr Mpofu’s constant affirmation I surprised myself and many people by passing my primary school final examinations with flying colours. This was the beginning of my awakening.
I soon realised that if I was to make it in life I needed to work harder than the average student because I was a slow learner and very slow reader. It took time for things to sink. When schools closed I approached headmasters at schools near my home to request for classroom space so that I could study during school holidays.
So when others went on holiday I worked hard to catch up. Home was noisy and generally not conducive for studying. But even then I recall literally burning the candle and lying flat on my tummy reading and doing homework late into the night. I had to work ten times harder than the average student just to be above average.
Through such sheer hard work I managed to pass my high school with good results for me to aspire to be a lawyer. In fact I did far much better than many of my friends whom I considered to be much talented than me.
More and more people started noticing the potential in me. The high school authorities made me a prefect and then head boy largely for the discipline and the hard work I had shown. This recognition helped me gain confidence and self-belief. But deep down I still had many moments when I doubted myself. A hurtful word or perceived slight was enough reason to send me down the spiral of self-doubt. Dating girls was a struggle for I never could muster enough courage to make the first move. Thus, a lot of things that many students took for granted required a lot of effort from me.
Apart from the encouragement from people such as Mr Mpofu my fear of poverty and a life not very different from my parents caused me to work very hard. I was convinced that to escape the hand-to -mouth life I had witnessed from my parents I had to study hard and overcoming my learning disability.
At the University of Zimbabwe I wanted to study law and was devastated when I failed to make the cut by just one point. I had 7 points and the cut off was 8 points. As with all things when this happened this was the worst day of my life. But I now look back and say thank God I am not a lawyer. I ended up doing Economic History which I have hardly used.
As in high school my university days were characterised by a lot of hard work and sacrifice. I spent most times in the library and worked late into the night. When others went on vacation I always stayed behind to study and play catch up with the geniuses in my class.
I graduated with a 1st Class Degree in Economic History. I didn’t seem to have many options and teaching appeared to be the only thing available. I was yanked off a queue to register for a teaching degree by my Economic History Professor who thought I was out of my mind. He argued that I was too good to be a teacher which was an insult to many teachers I think.
Many a time other people’s impressions of me have been far too generous compared to what I think of myself. However, I am now comfortable with the truth that with plenty discipline and plenty hard work I am very good. In fact I am now very comfortable with standing in front of the mirror and telling myself that: “Trevor you are handsome and you are good. You are intelligent and articulate.”
If the world will not affirm you but you know you are good why wait. I have learnt that it is important for me to believe in myself for the world to believe in me. It is important to love myself for the world to love me. I am aware of my short comings but these must not stop me from believing in myself and loving myself.
I have dispensed with the self-hate which was a by-product of the abuse from my teachers. By loving myself I have also learnt to love those around me.
My journalism career has been absolutely unconventional and I have fully embraced it. I am not a trained journalist which means I have never ever been to a school of journalism.
How unconventional is this? For shooting off my mouth at an Economic Conference in Harare I was picked to anchor a national prime time Television programme that became a huge success launching me onto the national stage and journalism. Just like that!! I had Zero television experience.
Next I was spotted by a newspaper publisher who later appointed me assistant editor of The Financial Gazette which was then Zimbabwe’s only independent newspaper.
At the Financial Gazette I rose to the position of Executive editor in 7 years winning awards and then was fired for being too critical of President Robert Mugabe and ZanuPF.
My world crushed around me. I felt humiliated, alone and exposed. I was angry at this treatment. My ego took a knock. My job was me, my identity and livelihood. Three long and painful months after this life changing experience I was forced to go into business.
Sometimes in life we need to be taken out of our comfort zones to grow. I don’t think I would have gone into business if I had not been taken out of my comfort zone.
Don’t expect the phone to ring when you are down and out.
Moments such as these are precious. You get to know who your true friends are.
Until 6 years ago I had never been to business school. I learnt business by doing business and making lots of mistakes. I only went to business school well into my 40s to help me deal with the challenges of running a growing business. We are now the largest privately owned media house in Zimbabwe with 4 newspapers. We own two newspapers in South Africa and one of Africa’s largest news websites.
I have succeeded in life through hard work which is the only weapon I know in dealing with dyslexia. I don’t if I would be this hard working if l was a naturally intelligent person. I read a lot and see every day of my life as an opportunity to become a better person. I am helped by the fact that I am acutely aware of my short comings and always seek to surround myself with people who are far much smarter and more talented than me. I give them space to follow their dreams and passions and they in turn have made me shine.
I am a born again Christian and God is at the centre of everything I do. I wouldn’t be who l am without God in my life.
Thank you for giving me an opportunity to share the story of my journey living with dyslexia.