Deaf Awareness Week in the UK this year brings the opportunity to celebrate role models. Signal is privileged to encounter many motivational individuals at home in the UK and within its partner organisations and local communities in eastern and southern Africa. Here is just one example…
Emmanuel has taken part in our project in the West Nile area of Northern Uganda, as headteacher of a primary school in Zombo District. He became a champion of the deaf awareness and communication project in his district, drawing on his own experience of living with hearing loss as a child. Our partner Signhealth Uganda learned his story during one of the project’s workshops with teachers and parents.
As a child back in the first grade of primary school, Emmanuel was playing with his friends in the flowerbed by their church. In this particular game, each child in turn would pick some flower seeds, put them in their ear and then remove them. The one who finished the fastest would be declared the winner of that round!
Emmanuel recalled that, when it came to his turn, there was unanticipated misfortune:
“Being less experienced and unaware of the risks at the time, I pushed the seed so hard that it went down into the ear. It would not come out again, despite me trying all tricks, including pouring in water with my friends. I was panicking and trembling, fearing what my tough ‘muzeyi’ [father] would do. I decided to keep quiet.”
This fear was of being punished with the cane.
Emmanuel recalled further:
“The seed remained in my ear for over five years causing reduced hearing over time. My family members resorted to shouting loudly at me and sometimes I was called ‘abobo’, meaning stupid, when I failed to respond appropriately.”
He did not gain the courage to do something about this, until he reached grade six of primary school. Then his elder sister, who had become a nurse, checked his ear and discovered a foreign body.
“She struggled to remove it. Luckily by then what was a seed had become some kind of soft tissue and the residue gradually came out. After a few days of pain, life became normal. Since that time, I have learned the hard way that it is not good to play with or push any object in the ear.”
Emmanuel was very eager to join in our project’s deaf awareness campaign, after the initial community sensitisation meetings in his district. He quickly became one of the most resourceful teachers trained through the project to be a focal person for deaf and hearing impaired learners.
Emmanuel uses his own story to draw attention to the causes and effects of deafness and hearing loss, the conditions under which children live and the available options for support.
When teaching duties permitted, he also accompanied the project team in the field in identifying deaf and hearing impaired children, in mobilising their families, and in guiding the families on how to support their children.
“Dear parents, it is very important to check on the health of our children from time to time. If there is any child out there with a problem of hearing, it is important to check their ears or take them to a health centre. Not everyone will be lucky like me, if you delay.”
Emmanuel is very positive too about the need to develop a good relationship with each child to understand what support they need and to develop individual plans for those with severe needs. He decided to operate an ‘open office’ for all children and encouraged fellow teachers to do the same.