Disability Not Inability: John’s Determination to Succeed

Nov 30, 2017

John doing what he does best


Thirty-four year old John Mwangonde from Mwambuli Village in Karonga District was diagnosed with Poliomyelitis at the early age of 6.

When I first lost the ability to use my legs, my family thought I was bewitched so it was a while before I was taken to the hospital where they told us it was polio and that I was going to stay that way, unable to walk,” John tells.

He explains how, after he become a paraplegic, his family could not afford a wheelchair and how he had to crawl to get around, including going to school. Despite the nearest school being 8 kilometers away, John was determined to stay in school.

“I saw how a lot of people with predicaments like mine found it too much of a challenge to get to school and decided to stay at home. Something in me always kept me going even though it was not easy to go to school every day,” John explains.

He explains how his mother kept repeating to him and to his family that he was meant for great things and that he would someday become a very important person in their community.

Her words motivated John to stay in school and whilst all his siblings eventually dropped out, he kept his determination and passed his Primary School Leaving Examinations and proceeded to a Community Day Secondary School near his home where he was among the top students in his class.

“One day, a well-wisher came to our school and saw me. I was the only one in my class with a physical disability and he said my life story and determination inspired him and he committed to pay all my school expenses and facilitated the provision of my first wheelchair,” John tells.

Although John’s final grades for the Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) Examination were quite good, he was not selected to the University of Malawi, but he was offered a chance to study for a Diploma in Community Development by the Malawi Council for the Handicapped.

After I obtained my Diploma in Community Development, the biggest challenge I faced was that most of the job opportunities that were being advertised in that field required a lot of mobility and for one to know how to ride a motorcycle, which was not possible for me, so I ended up being unemployed for a long time,” he explains.

According to John, despite his qualifications as a Community Development worker, his passion was always in electronic gadgets, and especially in computers.

“I knew how to fix things like computers, simply by studying others doing it. I therefore decided to go back to school and study Information Communications Technology and proceeded to open a small shop for electronics outside my house and provide apprentice opportunities for the youth to come learn basic computer skills for a small fee,” he said.

This was how John made his living for a while until his big break, when he was selected as a Registration Officer for the National Registration and Identification Systems Project.

I heard from a friend about the call for applications for the National Registration Officers and I was immediately interested and decided to try my luck. Being in a wheelchair, I was a bit skeptical about my chances, but here I am, getting my Certificate of Accomplishment for successfully completing my role,” he says. 

For people with a disability in Malawi, life is not always easy. Their needs are often neglected and they can sometimes be isolated in their communities, due to superstitions and the lack of knowledge about disability issues. John’s determination to overcome every obstacle that came his way due to his disability is a true testimony to the saying that where there is a will, there is a way.

“I feel like I am a role model who helps clearing misconceptions by some people that being in a wheelchair means that I am incapable of achieving any success in life. I used my opportunity as a Registration Officer to show people in the communities where we were based that I am just as capable as everyone else,” he says.

In fact, during my lunchbreaks when we were registering the people, some of the community members would try to get me to go back and help the rest of the team because I was the fastest in using the Bio-metric registration kit to record their information,” he adds.

His journey as a Registration Officer was not always smooth sailing though. John recalls finding challenges in accessing some of the school blocks where his registration team was based. He explains how in Chiradzulu District, where the terrain is rocky, it was difficult for him to navigate his wheelchair and he had to be assisted by his team members.

 “I realized that most schools are not accessible for physically challenged people. I would use every opportunity to speak to the school officials urging them to come up with simple ways of making paths for wheelchairs in places where they only have steps or in other places that are hard to climb through,” he explains.

John is currently enrolled at the University of Mzuzu, studying for a Bachelor of Science Degree in Information and Communication Technology.

When asked what his long-term life goals are, John explains how he eventually wants to open a school for children with disabilities to learn different skills in the Karonga District.  He explains how a lot of the youth in Malawi face different challenges and are too often dismissed as burdens, not capable of contributing anything and ultimately, give up on their dreams and end up begging in the streets.

Despite some of his daily struggles and challenges, John is an inspiration to all of us and he continues to showcase that having a disability is not a barrier to achieving one’s dreams and living life to its fullest.’

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