They say experience is the best teacher and Kabelo Malongwa can attest to that.
Born in Francistown 35 years ago, Malongwa will never forget the 7th day of May 2007 when he went out drinking with friends only to wake up having a treatment done in a hospital bed after two weeks in a comma.
After a horrific accident had left him wheelchair bound.
Pushed by the desire to spread the safety message after the life changing accident, Malongwa decided to form an organization called Zero Road Traffic Accidents Organisation Banana (Zero RTA) last year.
The organization operates in partnership with various stakeholders that include the Motor Vehicle Accident Fund (MVA), Department of Transport and Botswana Police.
This year Malongwa won Botswana Youth Award under The Best Youth Living with Disability and pioneering disability issues.
As people will be traveling this festive season our Reporter Portia Ngwako-Mlilo had a chat with this activist about his organization, business and how he has been surviving after the accident.
Q. What does Zero Road Traffic Accidents Organisation Banana do?
A. We are on a mission to help reduce road accidents. The organisation is run by myself and two other victims, Mothusi Selefo and Edward Dhliwayo.
We resolved to become advocates of road safety through our experiences.
We are trying to sensitise the public especially youth about the dangers of drinking and driving.
We are not victims as commonly referred to but we are soldiers on a mission to make changes on issues of road safety.
Q. How do you spread your message?
A. We do it through the media and we work with MVA and the Police during their road safety campaigns.
We also go on radio to sensitise the public about the consequences of reckless driving.
I believe the message is driven home when coming from someone who is talking from experience.
We also go around malls in Gaborone funded by MVA.
Q. How did this situation affect your life?
A. It is very tough. The change was drastic, from being an able bodied person walking on two feet to using a wheelchair.
My life is now expensive especially health wise and transport.
I spend a lot on transport when I go for meetings.
I was a mechanical student at the University of Botswana and I could not continue with my studies.
I can’t sit for a very long time.
Q. And the accident, was it a result of drinking and driving?
A. Alcohol impairs your judgment in a way. If the driver was sober he could have tried to avoid the accident.
I was also drunk and actually had a black out at the back so I didn’t even see anything.
After the accident, I tried to deal with the stress by drinking alcohol but I soon realised it was making my situation even worse.
I had to sober up, pick up the pieces and start a new life.
Q. So what do you do now for a living?
A. I have a small business doing events management online on Skyfall blue and I work with a group of hard working people who do the leg work.
I acquired the funds from Gender Affairs through The Office of President.
The business has helped me a lot.
Q. Do you think road safety campaigns and messages make a difference in reducing accidents?
A. Yes it does. When I address the public and tell them I am on a wheelchair because of road accident they understand the message.
We even get acknowledgement from other stakeholders to show that we are doing a great job.
People should prioritise road safety and not wait until it’s too late.
Q. What does winning the youth award mean to you?
A. It is such a great honour to have received the award looking at the fact that the organization was only registered last year.
It is an encouragement and appreciation of what I am doing in the society.
It is an inspiration to other people living with disability that they can still make a mark despite their situation.
It boost my morale and I am now willing more than ever before to do more to make a difference in other people’s lives.
Being appreciated has helped me appreciate life.
I am done with regrets and being depressed because of my situation.
Q. You are also involved in sports
A. Yes we have a wheelchair basketball team called Diamond wheelers.
We are in the Gaborone City Council committee which prepares for commemorations of people living with disability.
We decided to form this team as part of the commemoration day activities.
Sport is something that brings us together other than this day so it is important.
Q. What are your future plans?
A. This organisation does not only consist of victims of car crashes but includes all people living with disabilities that weakens their motor ability through Neuropathy Help.
I want to see it growing and having members across the country.
We need people from other towns and villages to register as members.
If we can have more youth involved it can help reduce the road accidents because they are the most affected.
Q. What motivates you?
A. The pleasure of being alive keeps me going.
With God on my side I believe I can do anything despite my situation.
I have embraced my situation. Life without huddles has no meaning.
Skipping one huddle makes you jump to the next one, with that I keep on moving.
Q. Who inspires you?
A. I am inspired by Nick Vujicic. A man who was born without legs and hands but he can open a can of drink.
He is married to a beautiful wife and has kids. He does anything he wants and travels the world.
I have legs and hands though not functioning so what can stop me from doing what I want?
Q. What message can you give to road users this festive season?
A. I urge road users to take necessary precautions on the roads to avoid car accidents.
The government also spends a lot on the rehabilitation and treatment of people involved in road accidents.
Wheelchair users are increasing on daily basis in our country and we lose our beloved ones so let us unite and take caution.
I encourage drivers and passengers to use seat belts and to ensure that children are on car seats.
Festive season comes every year so people should not be over excited as if it is the end of it.
Do not drink and drive.
Q. Thank God is Friday, what are your plans for the weekend?
A. I love to have fun and mingle with friends so we have planned a little session for this festive.
I will not be going home like others do because I am cutting costs and saving so that I can buy myself a car next year.