I have become a semi-adoptive mother to a young man from Zimbabwe with Osteogensis Imperfecta. Several years ago, I rescued a set of books about the Nuremberg Trials from Lynn University. These books, known as the Blue Series, were sitting in a closet collecting dust and were this close to being thrown away as the library moved towards digitizing. I rescued them and went on to create with Lynn University something called “Project Nuremberg”, a series of events for Lynn University students and attorneys in our community to study all that is related to the Nuremberg Trials. One of the professors I work with at Lynn, Martin Phillips, pulled me aside one day and told me the story of Energy Maburutse. Being born in Zimbabwe with disabilities can mean that your culture wants you to die, as was Energy’s case. Born with a condition that made his bones brittle and his body unable to bear his weight, Energy was raised in a place with disdain and superstitious attitudes towards his condition. But everything changed when he arrived at a school for children with disabilities at King George VI School for the Disabled in Bulawayo, the only secondary school for the disabled in Zimbabwe. Beyond his loving mother, rural Zimbabwe had very little of what a young boy with disabilities needed and it is clear that his time at King George was a blessing. Both his physical needs, with wheelchairs and accessible facilities, and his intellectual needs were met at this school not just with classes in math and science but with music coming into his life and Energy learning to play the marimbas. And when for a school project, a group of students formed a school band they named Liyana, life changed for all the members of the band when they were discovered by Academy award winning producer and journalist Elinor Burkett. Inspired by their story, she went on to make the movie iThemba about them all. Over time, Energy, along with several other band members, had a desire to go to school in America and Elinor was able to secure scholarships for three of the band members. This is how Energy ended up at Lynn University in Boca Raton where I am a rabbi of a large synagogue. And ironically because of the ugliness of the trials that we study at Lynn, a regime that killed not only Jews, but anyone that like Energy was not the Nazi ideal, we came to know each other. Energy has his mom in Zimbabwe, Elinor is his American mom. And I am his Boca mom and help with his some of his needs down here. Getting around with someone is a wheelchair opens your eyes to how unfriendly the world can be to someone in a wheelchair. Aisles are narrow, stores are set up with barriers and occasionally disdainful looks can come your way. But Energy is seriously one of the most optimistic, easygoing people I have every known. Nothing fazes him and it is all a miracle, every day, that he is here. Perhaps because in his culture, he could have not been here. People with disabilities have been killed in his culture and witch doctors are brought in to figure out the curse that has come to cause someone to look a certain way that is different. It is a miracle that Energy is here, not just in college, but here, as in here alive on Earth for all the challenges being raised in Zimbabwe brought his way. After I met Meg and her family on line dropping off our children at Camp this past summer, I started following her blog. From it I realized more importantly a deeper connection that was shared – that if there is someone in your life with any type of disabilit or difference – yourself, your children, your friend, the most beautiful lesson that can be taught is that nothing, absolutely nothing, can hold you back, if you have the right support system around you. Energy is one of the best marimba players in Zimbabwe and he only started because of the opportunities the staff of his school provided. Another bad member, Goodwell Nzou, studying at Nazareth College in upstate New York and who lost his leg to a snake bite that went untreated in his tiny village for months, is now one of the most promising students in science because of his exposure to treatment by people that not just took care of his ailing leg that had to be amputated, but because they got him to school in a place where he could begin to thrive. We come into this world alone but along the way, the people we acquire can bring us the most thorough wholeness we can know. My disability, though not physical, was not fully understanding the power of optimism, hope, joy and people until I met Energy Maburutse.
For more information about Energy, Goodwell and Elinor Burkett’s movie “iThemba” about them see www.loliandrex.com