Born partially deaf, Chimwemwe Kamkwamba only realised at an older age that she was different. Life for her wasn’t easy at home, school or church.
“It took me time to accept myself and I felt sorry for myself because I knew I missed out on so much information. Even, though, I still do, I do not worry much since I came to accept who I am and realised nothing was going to change. And after I accepted myself as I am, life became easier because I wasn’t worried about people talking behind my back. I have a family and friends that accept and understand me. It’s such a blessing, I feel so blessed now,” says the 24-year-old.
And to add icing to the cake of accepting who she is, Chimwemwe is holder of Miss Deaf Africa, an accolade she attained on December 24 2019 in Seychelles.
She admits the title has so much power and she feels honoured to have brought the crown home.
She says with what she has been through as a deaf person, she thought about her friends and the children in deaf schools.
“I just don’t want them to go through the same, so with this title, I am able to voice out my concerns and be listened to. Now, I feel I will be able to change the mindset of many able people on how they think about the deaf community. It has helped for I have put deaf people on another level.
“To me as a deaf person, it is one of the greatest achievements any girl can dream of in as far as modelling is concerned. It has given me power to voice out my concerns as well as the concerns of my fellow deaf members. It has given me the hope that most deaf people lack and through this crown, they will now have hope that dreams really do come true, no matter how disabled one is. It has encouraged me to motivate others by showing them that I made it, so can they,” says Chimwemwe.
She says being Miss Deaf Africa means you are a celebrated deaf princess, requiring one to be disciplined and exemplary.
According to her, organisers of the pageant do not just seek beauty in the contestants, but attributes such as good manners, culture and intelligence.
The holder, among other duties, should be a spokesperson who can help a community, more of an ambassador who can bring societal change, mainly among the deaf community.
“The title requires dedication and hard work. It is a role which comes with responsibility and expectation. I am expected to attend charity organisations, sponsor events and raise awareness,” she says.
But Chimwemwe doesn’t regret her feat because she believes she won the crown for the deaf—to open doors for them—and is happy and proud.
And how did Chimwemwe become Malawi’s representative at the Seychelles contest?
She explains that because of resource constraints, the Malawi National Association of the Deaf (Manad) could not hold Miss Deaf Malawi.
“Therefore, looking at my potential, I was chosen by the deaf women committee of Manad. They believed in me to bring the crown home. Nevertheless, this year we are planning to hold an event to choose our representative for Miss Deaf Africa 2020,” says Chimwemwe.
She is also a member of the Manad advocacy committee which fights for rights of deaf people.
Chimwemwe observes that deaf people face similar challenges across the world.
She cites lack of acceptance—assumption to be deemed failures or people who can’t do anything just because they are deaf.
“The government does not really support us. In terms of education, schools with intensive learning lack sign language teachers or interpreters to assist teachers and learners. For this reason, most deaf people fail, lose hope and their dreams.
“In hospitals, too, there are no interpreters for us to communicate with doctors. We end up not getting help at all, or even being given medication that does not best suit our illness. The same applies at police stations,” she says.
Chimwemwe says deaf people are also taken advantage of in most companies where the payment is low.
She adds that their access to information is nil because, among other things, some TV stations have no interpreters, making it hard for deaf people to understand what is being said.
The young woman says there are many problems deaf people are facing and a lot needs to be done by different organisations and individuals willing to help.
“Our plans are to reach out to those who have no access to information on what is going on in the country and across the world. We need interpreters at TV stations, hospitals and presidential briefings because we miss out on a lot of information, especially now as the world is plagued by Covic-19. It is, therefore, important that we are considered at this time in such areas so that we don’t feel left out, and understand messages clearly,” says Chimwemwe.
She describes herself as a passionate woman, willing to work towards changing the lives of others and willing to experience new things and places.
She wants to leave a mark that when people feel low and hopeless about their disabilities; it should remind them of her.
“I want to see the deaf community enjoy their lives to the fullest by doing what they love most—having their dream jobs and businesses. I am sure with the help of Manad and the public, all will be possible—one step at a time,” she says.
Chimwemwe is pursuing a degree in supply chain and logistics management at Exploits University, after an IGCSE certificate. She owns a salon.
The third-year student enjoys nsima with khobwe and loves spending time with friends, watching movies and cooking.
Chimwemwe was born at St Luke’s (Malosa) Mission Hospital in Zomba. She was partly raised by her grandmother while her mother was still at nursing school.
She is the third-born, and only girl in the family. While in Zomba, she went to Namikhate Primary School, then moved to Blantyre and started school at Ntonya Primary School.
Later, she moved to Mount View Primary School then to Kamuzu Academy, where she obtained her IGCSE certificate.
From Kamuzu Academy, she went to Management Development Centre (MDC) for a certificate course.