The world recently celebrated Deaf Awareness Week, also known as the International Week of the Deaf. It was instigated in Rome, Italy in 1958 to “gather together and provide a united front to draw attention to deaf people, their accomplishments and to promote their rights.”
However, not all who are deaf and hard of hearing receive sufficient attention and rights, especially in the education department.
Many countries in Africa struggle to provide proper schooling for their growing numbers of deaf and hearing-impaired children. In fact, deaf education is almost nonexistent.
Hearing loss is prevalent in African countries where bacterial infections often go untreated. Due to poor screening and minimal awareness of hearing loss, it’s difficult to determine the percentage of deaf and hard of hearing persons in Africa.
Still, researchers estimate that about one in seven children in Nigeria experiences a decreased hearing capacity or total deafness.
The deaf and hard of hearing are often perceived as impaired and unable to learn. When Georgine Auma of Kenya went deaf at the age of 9, her parents pulled her out of school for an entire year until they could decide what to do with her.
Even with hearing aids, she experienced isolation and identity crisis. Many deaf and hearing-impaired children are left to grow up illiterate, which limits their opportunities and puts them at greater risk of extreme poverty.
What is being done about this? Human aid programs Signal and SignHealth Uganda (SHU) are working hard to provide special schools for deaf children and sign language training for parents and teachers.
“I thought I was the only deaf person in the world until I discovered Kenyan Sign Language at Maseno School for the Deaf,” said Auma. Her deaf education gave her a “sense of belonging” that she hadn’t felt since she lost her hearing.
Deaf education provides hearing-impaired children with increased self-confidence and the ability to learn. Since 2009, students have demonstrated an increase in literacy and capacity for learning at a faster level. They also interact better with their hearing peers.
In addition to improving deaf education, Signal and SHU strive to change the social stigma against the deaf and hearing impaired. More and more graduating students can find careers and avoid becoming a burden on society.
Slowly but steadily, Signal and SHU are building a positive attitude toward deafness that will improve the overall morale of Africa. When a nation’s children are educated and happy, the country prospers as a whole.
Auma, now a young adult, participates in the Young African Leaders Initiative to bring greater awareness to the need for deaf education. Her deaf and hard-of-hearing peers can look forward to a happier future full of possibilities.
– Sarah Prellwitz