The life journey of a blind Tanzanian professor

Former Vice Chancellor of Academic research and couynselling at Sebastian Kolowa Memorial University Prof Edward Bagadanshwa at his home in Tabata, Dar es Salaam

Dar es Salaam. At a tender age of just six months, in 1959, Edward Bagadanshwa fell ill to measles which completely destroyed his left eye.

When he was enrolled to school, seven years later, a stray arrow from his childhood friend finished the other eye, making him a completely virtually impaired person.

However, these unfortunate incidents did not deter the man who is now a professor of education, special education to be precise.

He was born at Kaibanja Village, 56 kilometres from Bukoba town, at the time when there was no vaccine for the measles.

The second born in a peasants household of Daudi Bagandanshwa and his wife Apeneto Mbeoma, he enjoyed to study with his one eye for only a week.

On the weekend, he accompanied his colleague in search for pastures for their livestock, where they also used to hunt using arrows.

While tending cattle several miles from home, they saw a hawk in a tree and decided to stand on opposite sides of the tree to ambush the bird.

“Unfortunately, when my partner shot the arrow, he missed the target and the stray arrow came directly to stab my right eye, the one I counted on,” he narrates to The Citizen in an interview.

“The last thing I saw was my partner running away from me and abandoning me after that incident.”

The wounded boy was alone in the forest crying in pain, a Good Samaritan who was passing by heard the voice and went to pick him up while the arrow was still in his eyes, bleeding heavily. They headed home and later to the hospital.

“I was rushed to Ndolage Hospital and underwent surgery for five hours, which ended with a disappointing message from the doctors: “We are very sorry that he will not be able to see again,” says Prof Bagadanshwa.

Since life had to move on, the order in Daudi Bagandanshwa’s family had to change. Instead of all the people going to the farm and others taking the livestock to pasture, there was a shift to look after the young man who now needed very close care.

“I was completely prevented from playing with my friends for fear that they would hurt me or even stigmatize me. So my friends were not allowed to approach me. This is what hurt me and I did not give in easily to that treatment,” he explains.

One thing led to another, his father and mother differed on how they looked at his education. “My father didn’t want me to go to school, saying it wouldn’t be possible because he had never seen or thought that a blind person could read...”

“But my mother held on to her belief that I must go back to school like others. She involved the leaders of the church (which had put him in school before) and the church insisted until my father gave his consent,” he narrates.

Prof Bagadanshwa’s academic trajectory

The 63-year-old says the church was the source of his success. Church leaders began making plans to monitor three schools: Buigiri in Dodoma, Furaha in Tabora and Iganga in Uganda.

“The one that responded to the request to receive me quickly was Buigiri School. So, in 1968 I arrived there accompanied by my father. I completed my seventh grade in 1974. There were 10 students in our class, two of us were selected to join Mpwapwa Secondary School,” he says.

The scholar says that in his Mpwapwa class, five students were visually impaired.

“In 1978, we completed O-Level education. I was selected to join Mirambo Secondary School for my A-Level (form five and six),” he reveals.

Despite many challenges, Prof Bagadanshwa says his self-acceptance and self-confidence made his fellow students who did not have any disabilities to like him and support him in his journey.

“During my study journey, my father became a happy parent because among all his children, I was the only one who passed the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) and continued my studies,” he reveals.

In the final examination of Form Six in 1981, he passed again, thus qualifying to join university.

“In 1982, I joined the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) for a Bachelor’s Degree in Education and graduated in 1985. I went to work at the Institute of Adult Education as a teacher until 1992,” he explains.

That year he says he decided to return to UDSM to do a master’s degree in social science, which he completed in 1994. “I didn’t wait to graduate, because there was funding to go to the University of Manchester, England for a PhD.

Due to the fact that he was already among the scholars at the recently (then) launched Open University in the campus of the Adult Education Institute, he applied.

“After the application and verification process at the Open University, two of our names were sent to London, although when I applied, many people scolded and discouraged me due to my condition, but I did give up,” he says.

However, he says that in order for one to be accepted in the funding, he must have unique certificates because he must compete with other people from other Commonwealth member states.

“The two of us appeared to have the best credentials locally. However, when we got there, my colleague was dropped despite the fact that she was not blind. It’s just that her qualifications did not meet the required standard,” he explains.

“Our class in England had 20 students and I was the only one with a disability. However, only three of us managed to secure a PhD in one sitting, leaving the other 17 having to repeat studies,” he notes.

Prof Bagadanshwa wrote another history that surprised many in England. Despite the programme being three years, within two and a half years he had already submitted his dissertation.

“An official of the British Council had to look for me, he told me that the council had decided to give me a prize of 7,000 pounds as the best student. But they also decided that the remaining six months I should stay in England and they paid for all my accommodation, saying that they had never seen a student who finished and submitted his dissertation before or within the time,” he says.

The journey after Manchester

After returning in 1998, he says there was a need for a head of the faculty of education at the college and the qualification is that the person concerned should have a PhD.

“At that time, I was the only one with a PhD and despite many objections due to my condition, I was secured the vote,” he says.

Later, after a detailed discussion by the university council, he was given a six-month transition period, a job he did sp well and after those months he was instead given a confirmation letter.

“Since, I left college, after teaching for 22 years (from 1992 to 2014), I’m the only head of the faculty who received an award by the university for work well done and they have never given the award to another dean by today,” he says.

Later, the father of four left and moved to the Sebastian Kolowa Memorial University (Sekomu) where he taught and reached the level of being the deputy vice-chancellor of Academic, Research and Counselling.

He did that job until June 30, 2022 after the church was unable to pay workers’ salaries and was therefore dissolved by the Tanzania Commission for Universities (TCU).

On the other hand, in order to become a professor, one has to publish quality papers in reputable journals. Blindness did not stop Prof Bagadanshwa from getting published.

Some of his publications include; ‘Teacher Education for Special Education in Tanzania’ in the Journal of Issues and Practice in Education - JIPE (2004) and ‘Technologies Deployed by Visually Impaired and Blind People in Tanzania to access Information’ (JIPE 2006), among others.

Marriage and children

Prof Bagadanshwa is a football fan and a member of the Young African Sports Club who, as many others, met his beloved wife in the church.

“I had travelled for an official duty and reached the Lutheran Centre in Iringa on a Saturday. On Sunday morning I went to church. On the bench where I was seated, I was joined by a sister whom I later asked to hold my hand and take me to give my offerings.

“When the pastor saw us, he was impressed by that love and prayed for a good life for us. Wee continued being friends but one thing led to the next and we got married…,” he reveals.