Plight of visually-impaired mothers

A delaide Tengeza, a visually impaired woman from Nkawela Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Chimaliro in Thyolo recalls vividly how she lost her first-born son over 27 years ago.

The child, aged 2, drowned in a bucket of water that was kept in their two-bedroomed house for domestic purposes.

“It was in the morning of February 1992. That time, I was alone in the house with the child who was playing with a toy. My husband, visually impaired too, had left for business.

“I briefly went out to respond to the call of nature. Suddenly, I heard the baby crying and I immediately knew something dangerous had happened to him,” 52-year-old Tengeza explains. 

Kumwenda (C) flanked by Tengeza and Thethewa

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

“Fortunately, people came to my rescue. They found the child alive but with breathing difficulties. My son died while being helped by rescuers,” narrates Tengeza, tears welling in her eyes.

Now a widow, she feels her condition was the main contributing factor to the child’s death.

Luckily, few years later she was blessed with another son.

Tengeza does not mince words about the difficulties that mothers with visual impairment 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,” she says.

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

Today, Tengeza has four children who are supportive to her.

“Yes, I am blind 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 appeals to children whose mothers have visual impairment to support them to live a better life.

“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 in Thyolo, agrees that visually impaired parents, particularly mothers, 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.

“I feel it was not easy for my parents to support me until I reached marriage age. I salute all visually impaired mothers,” says Thethewa, a mother to Lovemore, 10, and Likeness, four.

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

The 20l8 Population and Housing Census states that Malawi has 762 702 visually impaired people and 52 percent of them are women.

Malawi Union for the Blind (MUB) women sub-committee chairperson Ulemu Kumwenda says it is sad that many mothers who have visual impairment experience stigma and discrimination in all social circles including their own families.

“It is not easy to perform 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,” she says.

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

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

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, the society expects to see such mothers fetching firewood, water, bearing children and providing for the household. However, to blind mothers, this is a double tragedy.

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

However, College of Medicine clinical psychologist Dr Chiwoza says the perception by visually impaired mothers depends on how the communities’ value and appreciate them.

“Psychologically, mothers with visual impairment feel honoured if their children and community members in general treat them with respect; otherwise, they feel neglected in the society,” he says.

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