Blind World Magazine

The blind with a vision.

January 26, 2006.
The Nation, Malawi - Chichiri,Blantyre,Malawi.

On a morning her peers are going to school, 12-year old Rita Moses, whose father died a couple of years ago, is torn between worlds: to go to school on an empty stomach and return hungry or escort her blind mother from their Gangala residence in Bangwe to town to ask for alms—a means which for sure brings something to eat.

The latter often turns a priority.

Out of complete destitution and lack of alternatives, many visually-impaired people have gone into the country’s streets begging for alms.

But one day things might work out and see the visually impaired make destitute street life a thing of the past. Tithandizane Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired (Tabvi) at Bangwe in Blantyre is turning the wheels of fortune.

It is pushing through efforts to redirect energies of the visually-impaired from begging for alms to proper ways of generating cash and fending for themselves.

Tabvi has more than 50 members with visual-impairment and 28 of these are breadwinners.

Some of the visually-impaired members have taken tall responsibilities, leading the walk from destitution to self-reliance.

Rocky Gauti is the finance manager and spokesperson, Fletcher Dick is secretary, Iness Macheso heads Tabvi’s women’s wing while Heaven Alfazema is chair of the executive body.

“We are aiming at raising the membership of the visually-impaired to about 300. But that means we need more materials,” said Gauti in an interview Tuesday.

“We want to completely walk away from begging. We have the skills and there is no reason to despair. We only need a push to get us going,” he added.

He says the visually-impaired need to move to self-reliance because destitution exposes them to stigma and abuse.

“Plans for a weaving factory are in tune, by June we will have done much on this. We plan to get those still in the villages to help us with work here. You would be amazed with the vast talent lying idle in the rural areas,” explains Gausi.

Alfazema says another potential area is poultry farming.

“It can complement art and craft. This means we could make enough money for our survival,” he says.

His counterpart Macheso says activities to direct women towards self-reliance are under way.

“We meet every Thursday for drills in homecare skills, pottery, baking, knitting and embroidery. We have already learnt how to bake buns, for example,” says Macheso.

She says the human rights lessons they undergo are playing a major role in helping visually-impaired women guard against abuse.

“Many men take advantage of our misfortune and rape us. Even the children who escort us are sometimes snatched away from us by abusers knowing there is little we can do to rescue them,” said Macheso.

She says sometimes even their own sons, who escort them on begging sprees, go naughty and turn against them.

“These are painful experiences. Life on the streets is tough. We have to go into better ways of generating income,” she said adding that even at home women are exposed to violence.

One of the organisation’s trustees, Bettie Mbagalira, says the women have shown considerable skills in their training.

Tabvi director, Eric Trinta, says the organisation is set to extend its operations nationwide and impart business acumen to the visually-impaired.

“Macoha [Malawi Council for the Handicapped] is doing its part. It can train people and instill in them high class skills but does not empower them. That is where we will come in and help lead the beneficiaries into money generating activities,” said Trinta.

The organisation is currently running on membership fees from trustees and sponsors and other small-scale fund-raising activities.

Trinta hints that other projects in the offing are carpentry, tinsmith, and wine production.

“We are set to revive some of the outlets through which Macoha used to sell its products,” says Trinta.

As they take one step at a time, walking towards the day they shall sing a song of self-reliance, the visually-impaired are leaving no stone un turned to wipe stigma out of society.

One of these days it might be their choral group storming your church, mosque, temple or neighbourhood just to say “lack of vision is not lack vision, we have a vision.” ––Note: This feature is part of a project Stanbic Bank is carrying out in conjunction with the media. The project, called ‘Inspiration lives in Africa’.

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