Twenty two years ago, Patrick Nsenga was born left handed. But in his childhood he was trained to discard the ‘abnormality’ and use his right hand. Today he is right handed and has no signs of a leftie. It is a life many go through. Victimization of left handed children is rife in our communities. Many parents can’t stand their child growing up left handed. They will use all means including punishing them for things as simple as using the left hand to eat or write.
“I am not sure why I was trained to use my right but I adapted and it turned out fine,” Nsenga says. Nsenga is one of many (including the writer) who though born left handed have since lost their tendency and are now right handed-thanks to the perceptions that being left handed is not a ‘normal.
Several myths have been advanced about being left handed. “I am no expert but lefties tend to be prone to injuries more than right handed people especially when using tools, it could be because most tools and utensils are meant for right handed people or it could be that they easily get into the way of other workers or it could be just superstition. I wouldn’t want to take a chance. If one of my children was left handed, I would see to it that they use their right instead,” Yusuf Ganza, a Nyamirambo resident explains.
It is probably such reasons that explain why parents push their children to use the right hand, even when they are naturally left handed.
Most facilities are designed for right handed people. “I play the guitar often, it would have been hard finding a left hand guitar or I would have to play one upside down which is a bit hard. Most mobile phone flaps open to the left meaning right handed people may be a little inconvenienced while using them so I am glad to be right handed,” says Nsenga.
Marie Kayitare, a former primary school teacher and mother, says that when a child is viewed as being different by his play mates and classmates, it could have an effect on them.
“There are those children who notice that one of them is a little different from them because of the hand they use. But when they do, they might see him or her as superior or disabled. Depending on how a child is perceived by his friends and play mates, he/she may take it in and show such traits. If they view him as superior and gifted, the child may go an extra mile to prove that he really is gifted by either answering more questions in class or being very active in the field.”
Kayitare advises parents with left handed children to support them and build their self esteem instead of forcing them into being right handed.
“Rather than forcing them to use their right hand, parents can build their children’s esteem by explaining that being left handed is a gift. With that, they will have less self doubt and will go an extra mile to prove that they really are gifted. At times, playing mind games does a lot for the children.”
Immaculate Chaka, a child specialist in Kigali, says in the early years, children rarely notice such differences between them and rarely treat each other differently.
“When they are very young and have just begun schooling, they are not keen to notice such differences and it rarely affects their interaction with their age mates, it is parents and teachers who tend to note such differences more than the children themselves. As a parent or teacher you notice that when handing the child something, the left hand reaches out first before the right one. At times it goes away as they grow and at times it stays.”
On whether training a child to use their right hand instead is okay, Chaka says there are factors to consider before doing it. “At times a teacher or parent may notice that a child’s pencil grip is weak while using the left hand and that could be a legitimate reason to train them to use their right if it is stronger.”
Being left handed could attract ridicule and at times nicknames from classmates and play mates and Chaka says that is where the parent or teacher should come in. “When things such as ridicule or nick names begin to bother the child, the parent or teacher should be by his side assuring them that it is not a disability and that they are just like everybody else if not better.”
Though researchers have been at it for a while, the only fact that has been proven about them is that they are a minority. Arguments of low life expectancy, higher IQ, or more talented in arts and sports are yet to be proven.
Christa Nyirahirwa, a cyber café attendant in town, has to be reminded by people that she is left handed as she herself doesn’t find it outstanding in any way.
“At times people ask me what it is like being left handed; I answer that by asking what it is like being right handed. It feels pretty normal and I am so used to it. Most people are curious to know if I experience difficulties while using a keyboard with numbers on the right hand side considering I use computers often, or if I ever use scissors, or if I don’t mind getting ink on my hand as I write. Truth is that I don’t see it as being different; I see it as being the way it is supposed to be. You forget that you are left handed until somebody reminds you or asks you. But I am yet to see items that are made with left handed people in mind like play station gaming pads.“
Rather than playing victim or feeling like a lesser person, Nyirahirwa figures lefties can choose to see themselves as having an upper hand. “Though some people may avoid sitting next to you at the dinner table because you will keep knocking their elbow, you shouldn’t look at it as a bad thing. How about choosing to see yourself as one with a unique advantage? If you are a guy why not use it as an advantage in the football field and keep surprising your playmates with a left pass?”
Lefties: Cursed or gifted?
Most left handed peeps I know are bright. You can’t deem ones hand of choice as a gift or a curse really. But one of my lecturers said being left handed is lack of seriousness because of the way lefties lean as they write.
Stephen Alexander Mayiga
It’s not a curse, it’s a difference. Most people are right handed: it doesn’t make them special. However it has advantages like in sports. Most people find it hard to deal with lefties. And it has been proven that they have higher IQ.
A gift.my youngest is left handed. Anything that makes you stand out is surely a gift. I have never tried to change her. Every time she tries to use her right she gets uncomfortable and goes back to left. I’m actually not bothered cos I don’t see how it’s going to impact her life differently.