I AM an accident survivor, not an accident victim, says Chijika Ngonga.
Three years ago, the Mufulira-based mother of three lost her right arm in a bus accident en route to Lusaka.
Enduring months of painful readjustment and rehabilitation, Chijika – or Chichi as she is known – chose to pick up her life and be an inspiration to many others.
She went on to write a riveting award-winning book, and briefly hit the radio and television circuit where she shared her experiences.
Chichi was also engaged by the Road Transport and Safety Agency as an advocate for road safety, a matter she says is everyone’s responsibility.
She has further gone on to establish an initiative called Samaritan Hope Givers which aims at helping the physically challenged, orphans and vulnerable children.
She shares her story.
What are your most vivid memories of the accident?
It was on March 15, 2016 when I headed out on a bus from Mufulira to travel to Lusaka that I was involved in a road crash.
I remember the bus picking up speed but I didn’t quite pay much attention at the moment till I saw it lose control because I sat in the window seat. I remember trying to get up and run but passed out when the bus crashed.
Moments later when I gained consciousness, I was still stuck in the bus. I tried to get up by leaning on my right hand but I couldn’t feel it so I screamed out for help. I was afraid to check myself.
A few guys came to my aid and pulled me out. I was made to sit by the side of the road as we waited for an ambulance.
From the wailing of the onlookers, I knew there was something terribly wrong with me but I still couldn’t look.
Fortunately, a Mr Mutale who works for Mufulira Municipal Council mobilised some men who lifted me and put me in the back of the council van. I was made to lie on my back, and they placed my hopelessly crushed arm on my chest. I was rushed to Malcolm Watson Hospital.
I wasn’t in any pain at this point but I was feeling extremely cold and bleeding.
When we got to the hospital, the pain was steadily increasing. I was pulled out of the van and onto a stretcher. I was wheeled in and immediately two male surgeons walked in.
At this point the pain was intense and excruciating. They ripped my clothes up and started checking the extent of the wounds. I kept begging to be sedated but they couldn’t do so until they established the extent of the injury.
I kept falling in and out of consciousness. I felt like giving up on life. I was stuck at a place where being conscious was extremely painful and being unconscious was peaceful.
A small voice kept telling me to keep my eyes open. I struggled to stay awake.
I was asked plenty of questions and I answered them all.
I was then wheeled to the theatre and I was knocked out.
When I woke up several hours later, I was safely tucked in bed, but my right arm had been chopped off and was neatly bandaged. I looked at myself and thought “Oh, now I am disabled. I have one arm.”
My surgeon came in to see me that evening to explain the procedure they had followed and why they did it. He had taken photos of how crushed my arm was when they received me and why it could not be saved. There on started my journey to recovery.
What were the biggest changes you had to make after the accident?
There were so many changes. First of all, before anything else, I had to accept what had happened to me and then adopt new ways of doing things and living life.
I had to change my mindset. Having lived 31 years of my life using my right hand as the dominant one, then suddenly losing it was a big blow for me.
So readjusting my whole system, training my left hand to do everything and picking up a positive attitude was the only way I was going to survive this.
So I prayed. I told God, “I don’t know why You allowed this to happen to me, but I’ll trust that You will carry me through.” And He did.
The biggest thing I did was to adopt a more positive mindset, trusting in God and everything else just flowed.
Where did you draw the strength to almost immediately pick up the pieces and get on with your life?
I draw a lot of strength from God. Being a believer, I’ve learnt to trust in God no matter how bad a situation can be. In a world full of negativity, I read the Bible a lot to fill my mind with God’s word and have a positive outlook to life.
Second, I have had a very strong support system. My family has been great. Without them I honestly do not know where I’d be by now. My friends too have been awesome. So I have a network of friends and family that help me carry my load and I’m forever grateful and will not take any of them for granted. My church has also been very supportive. I’m very blessed.
When did you make the decision to write the book?
One of my friends invited me to be one of the speakers at a women’s high tea event, just to give some inspiration. So there I met a lady – who has become a good friend over time. She said, “Babe, you’re an inspiration. Why don’t you put your story together and write a book?”
I laughed and brushed her off and told her, “Babe, I’m not a writer, I can’t do it.” But over a few days, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
I knew I wanted to tell my story and touch a life but I didn’t know how I was going to do it.
But I gathered courage and told myself I was going to do it.
And that’s how I accidentally (pun intended) became an author. “Soaring on a Wing” is a multiple award-winning book I wrote chronicling my personal journey in life, the aspirations I had as a child and how everything changed when I lost my arm. It provides both spiritual and practical tools to use to help overcome the challenges of life.
You also established Samaritan Hope Givers. Share a bit more on its aims and objectives
Samaritan Hope Givers is a Chijika Ngonga Initiative to rise above disabilities.
I’ve had a passion of helping vulnerable children in society acquire education, and to help the disabled and widows.
Over the last year, we have managed to put 16 children back to school and hope to increase numbers. This can only happen if we have more people coming on board to partner with us so we work together to fight poverty in our communities.
Lack of funds has inhibited us from exploring our vision of keeping orphans under our roof. I recently got a plot where we plan to build an orphanage so we can take these children in.
I am truly grateful to everyone that has supported ventures that we’ve had of feeding the children, clothing them and so on. The most recent event was where we helped a man who was amputated due to cancer acquire a wheelchair. It is because people responded to the call and contributed that we were able to do this.
I’m calling forth more people to partner with me to restore hope to those that may be losing it.
You’ve also been associated with the Road Transport and Safety Agency since the accident. What’s your view on road safety in Zambia?
I have been privileged to be a part of some RTSA’s road safety campaigns and the title of being an ‘ambassador’ still remains a dream that I have. If given this platform, my passion about road safety will be given a chance to reach multitudes. I’ll be given a chance to share my story so that others do not have to go through what I went through.
I however commend RTSA and indeed its CEO Zindaba Soko for the job well done in promoting road safety. They work tirelessly to ensure safety on our roads across the country. But I believe it is everyone’s responsibility to be an ambassador for road safety and adopt the set rules of all road users for the safety of all.
How have you managed to maintain such a positive disposition to life despite what you have been through?
God has a way of wiping away our tears. I know losing an arm was a big blow, but I feel my story has connected me to so many people I never thought I’d meet. There have been so many opportunities, open doors sometimes I even forget that I am an amputee!
God has been my pillar. Sometimes I cry but then I immediately remind myself that it could have been worse. Two other people died in that accident, why did I survive? So for me losing an arm was way better than losing my life. Who am I to complain? I should be grateful that my life was spared. Every single day I wake up, I thank God for it because indeed each day is a gift. The accident wasn’t a tragedy; what would have been a tragedy would have been my failure to cope and just wallow in self-pity.
I have learnt so much and I keep on learning and know that no matter what, my dreams will still come to true.
What would you say to a person who experienced a similar situation as you?
Don’t sweat over small things that you have no control over. Let things roll off your shoulders. We spend so much time stressing over insignificant things. A pot with a scratch still boils water so don’t write yourself off just because you lost a limb.
Life is easier with a sense of humour so laugh away. A sense of humour can make a big difference in accepting the punches life throws at you.
Adopt the attributes of an eagle and face your storms head-on!!! Soar on as an eagle that God sees you. You are blessed, so be a blessing. Make it a point to touch a life in any way you can.