Promoting the Wellbeing of Visually impaired Persons:
The work of Malawi Union of the Blind (MUB)
The Malawi Union of the Blind (MUB) is a Malawi-based organization, which was established 26 years ago. We caught up with the organization’s Programmes Officer Mr Latim Matenje, who toldus about his organization’s objectives. He told us that the Malawi Union of the Blind’s objectives are to advocate for the rights and needs of persons with visual impairment so as to influence decision-makers in the government and all sectors of the society, to attend to and work for the mutual interests and concerns of the visually impaired, to promote and assist in the education of the visually impaired, to promote rehabilitation of the visually impaired by providing them with relevant knowledge and skills that will lead to their self-reliance and to work with parents of blind children, with a view to giving them guidance and counselling on how to take care of them.
The organization’s Programmes Officer told us about his encounters with different understandings and explanations for disability. He explained that the understandings in African contexts, and in Malawi in particular, are really varied, ranging from medical explanations to witchcraft-related or religious beliefs.
On witchcraft-related explanations, he told us that explanations vary from case to case. In one case, a person started dreaming of seeing witches for some days until, suddenly, his sight stopped abruptly. In another case, an individual quarreled with an elderly man who simply said ‘We will see’, meaning, something will happen to you. The individual went to sleep sighted and woke up blind.
Latim Matenje also gave an example of a case of a child of prosperous parents, who were viewed as being proud because they led an individualistic life in what was a communal village. They attracted many enemies such that they couldn’t tell which one was going to harm them. When their child became ill, they went to medical hospitals but, upon diagnosing the child, health practitioners identified no problem, even though the child lost their eye-sight.
In other cases, visual impairment is attributed a religious explanation. He gave an example of a child who was born blind and the condition was lightly interpreted as God’s wish’. No remedy was sough because his family concludes that the child is suffering on their behalf – believing that the disability was meant for the family.
Latim Matenje shared with us a story from his experience that demonstrates the impacts of these beliefs and how the action of the Malawi Union of the Blind has made a difference – that of a girl called ‘Mirare’. Mirare comes from Thyolo District. She had little sight (low vision) from birth. Having been born in a family of six, all of whom had good sight, she attributed the impairment to witchcraft. This was because her mother had quarreled with her aunt over farm land. Mirare was born two days from the quarrel, and since she was visually impaired, the mother concluded that the old woman had bewitched Mirare. Due to fear for the worse, the family kept quiet about the problem.Mirare grew and joined the Malawi Union of the Blind. She participated in youth activities for two years, but the union learnt about her story in 2006. They referred the case to Sight Savers who were conducting Cataract surgeries in Thyolo district. Finally, Mirare was operated on and recovered her full sight at the age of 20.
To read more about the work of Malawi Union of the Blind, please visit: https://mubmalawi.org