Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Deaf in Ndirane

On March 3, Martyr’s Day in Malawi (a national holiday to commemorate the sacrifices the Malawian nationals made against the British rule in 1914 and in 1959), MANAD Chair Juliana and I visited Ndirane, a northeast Blantyre suburb where many Blantyre deaf people resided. It’s one of the poorer areas where corrupt politicians thrive by buying votes from the suburban population via cash giveaways, gifts, and other ways to win over the people. I found this out when I noticed a dozen small children following Juliana and I through the neighborhood, I commented about it and Juliana replied that they are expecting me to give them money. Later, during the meet up with the Ndirane deaf, I made the allusion to the group of children and Juliana brought it up as a point to the deaf gathering that they must work and not rely on handouts like the children outside.

We found our destination, a small apartment squeezed in behind a store. It was apparent that the room was prepared for our arrival and anticipating the size of the gathering, the straw mats were laid out on the floor and chairs set back against the wall. In a short time, less than two dozen deaf people and children squeezed inside the tiny room. Some were late deafened and six children ranging from age 3 to mid teens and one elderly man, are learning sign language from one of MANAD members. The member found them throughout the suburb and is providing sign language instruction for two hours a week. A handful of deaf adults in attendance were employed, carpentry, tailors, a go-to-guy (who is fortunate to have many hearing friends who constantly referred business to him), a woman who counted medicine pills for an Indian manufacturer, and a man who worked for a disabled office constructing and attaching mobility assistive devices together.

Juliana gave a speech about the intent of MANAD, its mission to collect and advocate for the rights of the deaf to the Malawian government. She also announced the new head office and its location and encouraged them to visit. During the visit we collected some comments and feedback from those in attendance, they desired for better access to medical facilities and communication with its personnel and secondly, it seems the hot topic is that they felt they are in the middle. The disabled community sees the deaf as able bodied, able to do many things physically. However, the hearing community view the deaf as incapable to have jobs and do tasks. One interesting fact I learned is the Muslims in Malawi, in accordance to their religion and beliefs celebrate Ramadan and other holidays by giving gifts and money to the disabled community (including the deaf) as a cause. However, the average disabled group or individual would receive K1,000 (around USD 6 or 7) more than the deaf because many local Muslims felt that the deaf are more capable.

It was the first time for me to interact with the deaf community that does not revolve around school. Many deaf persons there reflected the rest of the hearing (and able bodied) poor and working class Malawians I’ve observed around town and in the newspapers; they own few articles of clothes and often wear their best shirt and trouser/skirt – their only pair – each day, travel long distance to work, have at least one meal a day mainly to save money, and rely on a well for drinking and washing clothes. The “well” is a single faucet at the top of a two or three foot pipe jutting up from the ground. In the outskirts of Blantyre I see two dozen women waiting for their turn at the faucet. I asked someone how long she waited for her turn but she only replied “we get very little water each time”. There is much for MANAD to do.


Blogger MCC Brazil! said...

You have mention East Indians in your past two posts. Are there many? Are they the "rich" there?
So Juliana told the group to visit MANAD, but any suggestions on what they can do for themselves meanwhile?
Thanks, Kate.

3/18/2009 9:00 AM  
Blogger Kate O. Breen said...

Yeah - one of the upper classes, business owners mainly.

well - I was actually the one who suggested they keep the deaf awareness going for themselves, and help manad any way they can.

3/18/2009 1:09 PM  

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