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Plight of visually impaired mothers

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By Memory Kutengule:

BANDAZI —Their plight doubles

Adelaide Tengeza, a visually impaired woman from Nkawela Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Chimaliro in Thyolo District, vividly recalls how she lost her first-born son 30 years ago.

The 52-year-old mother failed to look after the child due to her physical condition.

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He drowned in a bucket of water that was being kept in a two-bedroom house for domestic purposes.

“It was in the morning of February, 1992. That time, I was alone in the house with my child who was playing with a toy, as my husband who is also visually impaired, had left to do some business at the trading centre.

“I left the baby in the house, to respond to the call of nature. Suddenly, I heard the cry of a baby and I knew that something dangerous had happened to my son,” Tengeza explains.

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She says due to her physical disability, she realised that the only way to rescue the child was screaming for help.

“People came to my baby’s rescue. They found him alive but with breathing difficulties. He died while being helped by rescuers,” Tengeza narrates, tears welling up in her eyes.

The mother, now a widow, feels her condition was the main contributing factor to the death of her child.

Few years later, she was blessed with another son.

She is blunt about the difficulties that mothers with visual impairments face in taking care of their children.

“I did not know how to breastfeed my child; neither did I know how to bath him. I was afraid the baby would fall or gulp water from the bath and die,” she says.

However, with time, she says, she learnt the tricks.

Today, Tengeza has four children, namely Nicholas, 29, Innocent, 27, Trophina, 24, and Benadetta, 22, who are supportive to her.

“Yes, I am visually impaired and widowed but I don’t lack anything because my children are always there for me and I am reaping the fruits of motherhood,” she says.

She then appeals to children whose mothers have visual impairments to support them to live better lives.

“It can be painful to realise that a son or daughter you struggled to raise is neglecting you because of your disability. I would like to ask children with such parents to desist from neglecting them. Their mothers need support,” Tengeza says.

On her part, Chimwemwe Thethewa, 38, from Mphedzu Village in T/A Bvumbwe, Thyolo District, agrees that visually impaired parents, mothers in particular, face challenges in raising children.

She says such mothers need to be rewarded.

Thethewa, married to Moses, lost her sight when she was 13 and reflects on how her mother struggled to raise her up.

“I feel it was not easy for my parents to support me until I reached marriage age. I salute all visually impaired mothers out there who refuse to be impeded by their conditions,” says Thethewa, a mother to Lovemore, 10, and Likeness, four.

The cases of Tengeza and Thethewa are examples of many in Malawi.

According to the 2018 Population and Housing Census by National Statistics Office, the country has 762,702 visually impaired people and 52 percent of them are women.

Malawi Union for the Blind Women Sub-committee Chairperson, Ulemu Kumwenda, says it is sad that many mothers who have visual impairments, experience stigma and discrimination in society including their own families.

“It is not easy to fulfil the role of motherhood when you are visually impaired. A mother with visual impairment, just like any mother, perseveres from conception to delivery for children to survive, grow and develop into productive citizens,” Kumwenda explains.

To this effect, she says, such mothers ought to be celebrated and honoured in a special way especially as Malawians commemorate Mother’s Day on October 15 every year.

Spokesperson for the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare Lucy Bandazi echoes Kumwenda’s sentiments.

Bandazi says much as it acknowledges the challenges that visually impaired mothers face in all aspects of life, the ministry is always geared to addressing such obstacles.

“Generally, persons with disabilities face various forms of challenges and they have suffered many forms of abuse and exploitation. For mothers and children, their plight doubles or triples because of how society treats them,” Bandazi says.

“The National Policy on Equalisation of Opportunities for People with Disabilities is meant to address such challenges…as one way of supporting them to have quality life all the time,” she adds.

Every year on Mother’s Day, people show love to mothers by giving them gifts in recognition and celebration of what they have done in the family and the nation.

NGOMA—This is not easy

One of the country’s human rights activists, Dorothy Ngoma, feels it is the responsibility of everyone in society to support mothers who have visual challenges.

“Just like anyone else who has rights and freedoms, society expects to see such mothers fetching firewood, water, bearing children and also providing for the household. However, to mothers with visual impairement, this is not easy.

“It is, therefore, our responsibility to cherish them with all what we can so that they should feel loved,” Ngoma says.

College of Medicine psychologist, Chiwoza Bandawe, says Mother’s Day to visually impaired mothers should have a great impact considering the roles they play during motherhood.

Bandawe, however, believes the perception of the day by visually impaired mothers depends on how communities value and appreciate them.

“Psychologically, mothers with visual impairments feel honoured on this day if their children and community members, in general, treat them with respect; otherwise, they feel neglected in the society,” Bandawe says.—Mana

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