MAHARA JOHN M'MANGISA
“When I grow up, I want to be a neurosurgeon, like Ben Carson. I want to help children with brain problems.”
This is a song that Mahara Mmangisa has been singing since he was 7. At 9 today, he has read Ben Carson’s biography, Gifted Hands, and watched the movie countless times. In December 2015, his parents supported him to fulfill his dream of visiting Johns Hopkins University’s School of Medicine, his dream university, and the hospital where Ben Carson worked for years and performed the surgery that made him famous: the separation of conjoined twins in 1987.
Fascinated by medical equipment and doctors, Mahara has always taken advantage of doctor visitations to ask enough questions that satisfy a doctor-in-the-making. Cue him always starting with, “What are you doing to me? Why? Why this instrument?” during a typical visit. He does not want his parents to collect medicines for him, but wants to hear all the instructions straight from the doctor’s mouth himself. Of course, like every child, syringes scare the doctor out of him!
Mahara has always liked to play with interactive toys, Kurio and Leapfrog being among his favorites. When the toys succumb to his full tampering, Mahara will move onto iPads, laptops or his parent’s phones, discovering worlds in cyberspace that the phone owners are yet to explore. If ever. But his curiosities provided the impetus for his parents to take him to mHub in Lilongwe, where he would be immersed in computers, gadgets and other technologies. At mHub, he slowly started learning coding and app development.
It therefore did not come as a surprise when the UNICEF Smart Kid Challenge was presented to him earlier in the year, in which he chose HIV/AIDS as a project he would work on. He resolved to develop an app that would help medical specialists and patients understand the condition and the symptoms to look out for better. And, so, at the end of the challenge, Mahara delivered the “Health Sensor.” He continued to perfect his app with the help of his mentors at mHub until he was ready to submit it for evaluation in the competition.
One October Tuesday started off like any other day for Mahara M'mangisa. As usual, he planned to attend his session at mHub later in the day. On arrival at the day’s session, mHub staff announced the Health Sensor won a second position. It was a joyous moment for both Mahara and his family, but also an assertion on his journey to John’s Hopkins University School of Medicine that the 9-year-old dreams of. The Smart Kid Challenge presented him a certificate for this achievement, which landed him a TV interview with on Malawi’s Zodiak TV.
Mahara’s dream of becoming a neurosurgeon seems promising as he is already perfecting the operability of his Health Sensor. The sky being the limit for young Mahara, continued determination and support will be all the ingredients he needs to excel in the medical field and help transform the fortunes of his country, Malawi, that has been embattled with the HIV/AIDS scourge for the last 30 years. Well, becoming one famous doctor, like Dr. Carson, will easily be part of this amazing journey.