Signhealth Uganda team demonstrates the sign for Signal in Ugandan Sign Language

Helping “hidden” deaf children: Karen reports from Uganda

Signal’s International Programmes Manager Karen Goodman-Jones blogs about the young programme already identifying and helping hundreds of children with hearing loss in Central Uganda and a surprise appearance by the Mayor of Masaka…

Warm welcome

“A warm welcome and the chance to meet people whose lives have changed since we first partnered with Signhealth Uganda (SHU) on our three-year Comic Relief programme.” “Short, varied and a massive learning curve.” These are just some of the words I would use to describe my visit to Uganda this month.Photo of children with disabilities in Uganda

This programme works with deaf and hearing impaired children to help them to receive a good education within mainstream primary schools. We work with the children’s families, communities and schools to challenge negative cultural attitudes towards deafness. We work to ensure equality not special treatment – and to break down barriers of communication between children of all abilities and needs.

Reflecting on achievements so far

Marking the programme’s first anniversary, this visit allowed time for the partners, as well as individuals directly benefiting from the activities, to really reflect on what has been achieved, what lessons have been learned and what we might do differently over the remaining two years of the programme. This was done through a well attended workshop in Uganda’s capital, Kampala.Photo of children at primary school in Uganda

The programme’s work is based in Masaka, some 80 miles from Kampala, and SHU have worked in this vast district for nearly three years on other projects in areas of health, sign language training and education. They have established excellent relationships with District Council and Ministry of Education officials and are well known and respected.

When initial discussions with District level officials began and the aims of the programme were being discussed, the reaction to the idea of finding hearing impaired children already within mainstream primary schools was one of disbelief. One official stated, “If they were there, we would have known.”

Hundreds of children identified

One year later, and over 300 children with hearing impairments have been identified in the schools involved in the programme. Attitudes towards both the children’s abilities and rights to an education have also changed – at both community level and among District Council officials, who are fully behind the programme’s activities. Requests are now being made for a mass awareness campaign and an extension of the work to include all other schools in the District.Photo of Mayor of Masaka speaking in support of Signhealth Uganda

One measure of the success of the programme can be illustrated by the direct personal support of the Mayor of Masaka. A long-time supporter of SHU, he turned up unexpectedly at our workshop to express his support and commitment. In a bold statement the Mayor said, “These are good programmes!” and “We are one people, we must move together…to contribute to the development to this nation.”

Who can argue with that?

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