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Chirwa Shopping Mall: A hope for the deaf, dumb couple

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It is five kilometres from Jenda Township and three kilometres from Champhira Trading Centre in Mzimba District.

Chirwa Shopping Mall is a dream business for a couple with both hearing and speaking impairments who are currently running a big shop in the district.

James Chirwa, 36, and Anny Shawa, 31, come from Chithamthumba Village, Traditional Authority Mzukubola in Mzimba. They are a rare and admirable couple who have proven the principle of ‘disability is not inability’ to be true.

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The disability-is-not-inability doctrine is deliberately said as a way of encouraging people with disability to take an active role in activities aimed at improving the country’s economic development as well as their livelihoods.

Chirwa and his wife are both deaf and dumb but they have achieved greater things in their life that not every normal person can. They work tirelessly hard to improve their well-being without waiting for a helping hand.

Their journey to success started in 2001 at Embangweni School for the Deaf. There, the two had gone to gain some education, especially on how they can communicate to the world.

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Apart from the medical attention, James and Anny also attended numerical classes where they were trained in how to count numbers and add and subtract figures.

While at the school, the two, who are Standard Two dropouts, got attracted to each other and after an interaction and enquiries, they discovered they were from the nearby villages.

Back from school, Chirwa says they started visiting each other until in 2011 when they decided to starting living together as husband and wife.

As simple as they thought life would be, their start was a challenging for them, they had nothing to rely on as source of income.

Chirwa explains that when he decided to get married, he thought their survival would be through the harvest realised from their farming. But this was too far from reality.

“Seriously, we had a bad start and for the sake of keeping the family as a man, I resorted to doing piecework but for many years, no change could be registered,” he explains.

Despite the heavy load he carried, Chirwa says he never at one point decided to separate with his wife as some men do because he hoped that all the challenges he was faced with would surely one day turn into joy and happiness.

“We only kept praying and working hard for the better of our tomorrow,” he says.

Having been hit within poverty, Chirwa says his wife one day decided to approach members of Tupwhenge Comsip Cooperative, who by then, were working on the Local Development Fund’s Public Works Programme (PWP).

PWP is a government project where poor Malawians are engaged in a number of activities such as road maintenance and paid for that.

Many of those involved in PWP use the little they get to join cooperatives, especially those under Comsip.

Community Savings and Investment Promotion (Comsip) is a mother body of various cooperatives in the country.

Among others, Comsip encourages the formation of cooperatives among farmers and empower them with various skills such as village savings, small-scale businesses as well as nutrition and health.

One day, lady lucky smiled on Chirwa’s family, they got accepted into the programme under Tupwenge Comsip Cooperative and this was their breakthrough.

Just like any other cooperative under Comsip where sharing of shares and savings is encouraged and practised, Tuphweenge Cooperative is also into the business of saving money, selling shares to its members and at the end of a year share the dividends among themselves.

Chirwa and his wife also participated in the group business until when they started to reap the fruits of their sweat and perseverance.

The little realised from the group and the loan they got, they say, enabled them to open up a garden.

“On this garden, we grow various types of crops such as tomatoes, cabbage, onions and beans. Every single penny we made from the garden was contributed to the group so that our shares could increase and by that boost our opportunities to get a much bigger loan,” he says

Wanting to diversify business, Chirwa says, as a family, they decided to have another business and it is during this time that they opened up a shop that today serves thousands of people within their community.

“We used about K25,000 to start up the shop and today, on a good day, we make about K22,000 as profit while on a bad day, we can reach up to K15,000,” explains the couple, who each time they narrated their story, surprised the gathering in their extraordinary way of expressing their love to one another.

Meanwhile, Chirwa’s family has a total capital of over K350,000 which they hope to increase in years to come.

However, every road has its own sad story; Chirwa’s shop story has its own challenges. Since the two cannot speak and hear, people within the community are taking advantage of their problem by getting things on credit and never pay them even when they are humbly approached.

“Due to our challenge, people get things on credit and when we try to trace them and report them, we are ignored and unheard,” Anny complains.

In addition, the couple cites transportation and lack of proper security as another setback to the growth of their business.

“We have the feeling that because we cannot hear and speak one day people may invaded our shop and go away with our goods and money and that shall be the end of our story,” explains Chirwa.

Mphatso Moyo, Chairperson of Tuphwenge Comsip Cooperative hails James and Anny for the courage and rising above the top.

“They have been a role model to the community. Despite that some of us are physically fit without any impairments, we cannot compare our success to theirs, they are the best ever couple,” Moyo says.

He says this year, Chirwa’s family has managed to beat every member in the group by producing the highest quantity of beans and emerging the overall sellers.

The country’s Constitution gives every Malawian the right to freedom of association. The Constitution clearly stipulates that every person shall have the right to freedom of association, which shall include the freedom to form associations.

Moyo say, as a group, they do not believe in exclusion and when Chirwa’s wife approached them, they never hesitated but rather gave them an opportunity.

“Most of the times people are not willing to involve people with disability but, as a group, we thought they too are human and we knew that through their participation, they will have their life improved and further do something that would benefit the community.

“The shop is not only helping them but also the community. May I take this opportunity through this forum to encourage Malawians not to segregate those with disability because they too have the potential to develop this country,” he says.

Apart from expanding their shop into a shopping mall in Mzimba, Chirwa and wife dream to buy a family car as well as a lorry that will be used in transporting goods.

Comsip Executive Director, Tenson Gondwe, cannot not hide his excitement towards the family.

He says empowering the disadvantaged is among the core businesses of their institution.

“When we say every person despite their status has the potential to contribute to the economic development of the country, Chirwa and wife are a true testimony.

As Comsip Union, we are pleased to see the less privileged being economically empowered,” he says.

Gondwe promises to take the organisation’s initiatives far and beyond and ensure that every Malawian benefit.

Public Relations Officer for the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, Lucy Bandazi, encourages the physically challenged for taking up the initiative of improving their well-being by engaging in productive works.

She says the disability Act provides for the rights of persons with disability and it prohibits any forms of action that discriminate them to participate or be involved in all national development issues.

“The achievement by the shop owners shows that when persons with disability are given equal opportunities, they are able to contribute to national development,” Bandazi says.

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