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May 7th, 2010
02:50 PM ET

Three questions for Prudence Mahbena

Prudence Mahbena, 21, was born in Zimbabwe with a crippling joint condition called arthrogryposis. By the time she was 8, it forced the amputation of both legs and most of her right arm. In a society that looks on disabled children as cursed or worse, her childhood was marked largely by cruelty and indifference. She found salvation at a charity school in Bulawayo, where she discovered her talent for music and joined with a group of similarly talented but disabled youths. Their story is told in the film “Music By Prudence,” which won this year’s Academy Award in the documentary short category. It will be shown March 12 on HBO. Mahbena spoke with Dr. Sanjay Gupta on a visit to New York.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta: I've visited lots of places around the world. I've been to Zimbabwe. I've been to many countries in Africa. What is the perception? How are people sort of thought of, that have some sort of disability? Are they thought of as people that people want to help, or in some cultures, are they thought of as a burden?

Prudence Mahbena:In Zimbabwe, whenever a child is born, it’s like it is all over the world. When a child is born, they celebrate, they do A, B, C. They bring presents and all that. But whenever a disabled child is born, that's when people start talking, saying bad things. You know, “Maybe you were bewitched. She was bewitched. Maybe it's a curse from God,” and all that. That's when you don't get to talk to your families, your families turn their back to you.

Gupta:How did you even think to start singing? It’s so happy in some ways. The music – when did that begin?

Mahbena: The way I started singing is very funny. I used to sing with my grandmum, when I was young, but when I went to school, I used to sing in the corridors, just moving around. And one day, I got to meet a teacher who later became my music teacher. She heard me singing. She said, "Who was singing?" I kept quiet, actually. "Who was singing?" And I said, "Um, it's me," and I thought maybe I was in trouble. (LAUGHS) Maybe I had made some noise, you know? Then she said, "Oh, OK." Then she left me. And the same day, in the afternoon, she called me for a choir practice. It was a senior’s choir, and I was the only junior. Later on, I led the whole choir.

Gupta: Your range is incredible. At what point did you realize, “You know, I could be famous?”

Mahbena: I realized that I was going to be a star one day when the director and the producer of the movie came, and they said they wanted to make a movie about us. At first I wasn't sure of them … but they kept on telling me that, "One day, you'll be a star. One day, you'll be a star." And when we did one of the shows, in the biggest theater in Bulawayo [a city in Zimbabwe], people were screaming. People were clapping. It's in the movie. That's when I recognized – wow, okay, I am a singer. I am a musician. And one day I'll be a big star for sure.

Please tune in to “Sanjay Gupta M.D.” on Saturday and Sunday at 7:30 am ET to watch the entire interview with Prudence Mahbena.

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soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Rekha Bangalore

    Dear Dr.Sanjay Gupta
    I follow through all your programs every week. I especially liked this week's interview with Prudence Mahbena. It is indeed very inspirational story. Kids with lot of opportunities get into trouble while this young lady is truly a role model.
    Thank you for the great interview.
    Regards
    Rekha

    May 8, 2010 at 08:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Ann Smith

    This article says "Music By Prudence" was on HBO on March 12. It is also on HBO2 on MAY 12 at 8:00PM EST. Her story is amazing and inspiring. I have already set my DVR to record the documentary.

    May 8, 2010 at 08:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. ellie symonevich

    Thanks so much for this story on Prudence. What a remarkable woman. Where can we find her music? The song that she sang brought me to tears.
    Thank you.
    Ellie from Maine

    May 8, 2010 at 10:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Kim Phillips

    Amazing woman!!!

    For information about limb loss, prosthetics, the ACA Youth Camp and the ACA Peer Visitation Program, contact the nonprofit organization The Amputee Coalition of America, at 888/267-5669 or visit them at Amputee-Coalition.org.

    May 11, 2010 at 15:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Jeanne from RI

    I was fortunate to see Prudence perform at the VSA International Festival at the Kennedy Center. What a remarkable and joyous performance she gave! Her voice is amazing and the songs that she composed herself were incredible. I intend to buy her CD's and I will watch the movie. I've told everyone I know about her and her music.

    June 16, 2010 at 09:32 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.