Plight of visually impaired mothers

Adelaide Tengeza, a visually impaired mother from Nkawela Village in the area of Traditional Authority (TA) Chimaliro in Thyolo recalls vividly how she lost her first born son 30 years ago.

Kumwenda flanked by Tengeza (R) and Thengeta (L)

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

Her two-year-old son drowned in a bucket of water that was 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 with visual impairment, too, had left for business.

“I then thought 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.

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, her eyes wet with tears.

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

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, namely, Nicholas, 29, Innocent, 27, Trophina, 24, and Benadetta, 22, 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 TA Bvumbwe’s area in Thyolo 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 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,” says Thethewa, a mother to Lovemore, 10, and Likeness, four.

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

According to 20l8 Population and Housing Census by National Statistics Office, Malawi has 762, 702 visually impaired people and 52 percent of them are women including mothers.

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’re 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 as Malawians commemorate Mothers’ 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 the ministry acknowledges the challenges that visually impaired mothers face in all aspects of life, the ministry 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.

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

One of the country’s human rights activists Dorothy Ngoma feels it is the responsibility of everyone in the 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 also 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,” Ngoma says.

Malawi College of Medicine psychologist Dr. Chiwoza Bandawe says Mothers’ Day to visually impaired mothers has great impact in their lives considering the role played during motherhood.

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

“Psychologically, mothers with visual impairment 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.

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