Usually, the journalism profession favours those with eyesight—reading, writing and running around are all something one generally feels only the sighted can ably do.
But, at Malawi News Agency (Mana) at Karonga, 25-year-old Lusekero Mhango is living to defy visual barriers and make headway in the profession.
He has a visual impairment. However, he has not allowed the impairment to ruin his career path. He sees the world in a different way and lives to write news stories for the nation.
“I have always dreamt of becoming a journalist. My wish is to bring a difference in society,” says Mhango, who comes from Mwenitete Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Kyungu in the district.
Mhango suffered the visual impairment at the age of six. He had developed a clouding of the eye, commonly known as cataract, which led to his loss of vision.
“I was young then. So, I cannot really compare how life was then and now. I am used to this condition because I have grown up with it,” he explains.
Mhango spent a better part of his life in Scotland where his late father, the Reverend Happy Chifwafwa Mhango, had gone to pursue doctorate studies at the University of Glasgow. He was 10 when he went there.
He recounts: “The rest of the family relocated to Scotland where I did my primary and secondary school education.
“My family returned to Malawi in 2008 after the death of my father. But I remained behind to complete my education at Rosshall Academy.”
It was during his stay at Rosshall Academy that he developed interest to pursue journalism as a profession. He triumphed in a 2007 National Young Journalist of the Year Competition which attracted over 300 entries.
“The competition required us to file football match reports of the Scottish Premier League. As a passionate football supporter, with encouragement from my teacher, I joined the competition to the point of emerging the winner.
“I was given a trophy and cash. That was a major confidence booster to pursue the profession,” he says.
One would wonder how somebody with a visual impairment would follow a football match live and file a report.
“I follow a football match by listening. I have very strong listening skills. I visualise proceedings by listening to commentators. My friends brief me on scores and how they are scored. I picture the story and write,” says Mhango.
The passion for journalism saw him enrol for classes at the Malawi Institute of Journalism (MIJ) in Mzuzu in 2012 studying for a certificate and diploma in journalism.
Life, however, was never easy during those years. He was an odd among the students and only a few understood what his ambition was all about.
He says even the school was not ready to embrace him as it lacked textbooks and equipment to suit his condition.
“Lack of resources was a major setback,” he says, adding: “There was no Braille, textbooks and a laptop to use for assignments.”
Luckily, he received screen-reader software from well-wishers to install onto one of the college computers. The software is known as Jauus which reads documents on the screen.
In class, he would write his notes on a Braille machine as the tutors lectured. He would also write his assignments in Braille and have someone who understood Braille translate and handwrite them before submitting to the tutors.
Presently, Mhango is an intern at Mana online, a government-owned online publication. He is stationed in Karonga after spending a year at the Mana Mzuzu offices.
He admits that there are also challenges as a journalist with a visual impairment. He says he cannot go for a news gathering assignment alone and is always escorted by someone.
“If there is breaking news happening somewhere and I am alone in the office, I will surely miss it,” he says.
In the news gathering process, he says he misses details by not being able to see how someone’s face reacts to questions, or how they use their hands.
“I have learned to become a very good listener,” he says. “I focus on the interviewee’s voice, on their words, the tone of their voice—the very small details that I imagine if you focused on someone’s face too much, you could miss.”
Mhango prefers print over electronic journalism for the freedom the former offers in expressing oneself.
“I express myself more in print than on radio or television,” he says.
Mhango wants to use journalism to bring out positive change in a society where there are few visually-impaired journalists.
“I would love to be the change, an activist and a role model to other visually impaired individuals,” he says.
Mhango might not know it, but he is a wonder among his colleagues at the institution.
Salome Gangire, who was Mhango’s workmate at the Mana Mzuzu office, describes him as “an amazing” individual.
She says: “He is amazing. The way he does his job amazes me. For example, how would you explain a person with a visual impairment covering football games? Even the way he analyses issues surprises me. He knows a lot.
“The only challenge is that he always needs company in his news gathering escapades.”
Despite the condition he is in, Mhango has seen enough of the world just like those with eyesight, and promises that his journalism career is yet to soar the heights. n