Photo of deaf child teaching other children sign language in the face of adversity in refugee settlement in Uganda

Persevering in the face of adversity at a young age

Safina is deaf and a child refugee from the long-running violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Her story is one of not giving up at just 12 years old, while she faces the combined challenges of deafness, displacement, lack of parental love, and poverty.

Photo of deaf child determined to get an education in the face of adversity in refugee settlement in UgandaSafina is the middle child of three, and she and her two brothers fend for themselves in a village within a large refugee settlement in the Koboko District of the West Nile area of Northern Uganda.

Her 16-year-old brother is the de facto head of this little family, as their father returned to Congo and their mother later remarried and is mostly occupied with the demands of her new husband and family.

The young siblings have lived as refugees in Uganda for eight years, and they know how it feels to go hungry or beg from neighbours when food rations are delayed. Amid all the challenges that she and her brothers face, Safina strives for an education, waking up early to do household chores, before going to school.

Despite being the age of a child who might be finishing primary school, Safina is in the first years of primary school in the refugee settlement. She has struggled in class as a deaf learner and has repeated Primary 1 three times, yet she has still not given up (primary school years go from P. 1 to P.7 in Uganda).

Alongside this perseverance, the good news is that Safina’s special educational needs have been identified through Signal and Signhealth Uganda’s project supported by The True Colours Trust. They were identified as Signal’s partner Signhealth Uganda carried out follow-up deaf awareness and communication sessions at her school.

The project team and the teacher trained through the project to be a focal person for deaf and hearing impaired learners at Safina’s school have managed to secure further support for Safina. This is thanks to networking with those fellow NGOs which operate in the difficult conditions of the refugee settlement.

The team has connected Safina with a fellow Ugandan NGO which provides assistance and protection services for children in the settlement who are considered more vulnerable. She has been assessed and will be given a full bursary for an education more appropriate for her needs at a primary school which has a unit for deaf learners in the Arua District of West Nile.

Photo of deaf child teaching other children about deafness in the face of adversity in refugee settlement in UgandaSignhealth Uganda followed up with Safina again in the refugee settlement. They found her surprising her older brother and neighbouring children by the way in which she could teach them signs, encouraged by one of the project’s deaf peer leaders. These are parts of sign language that Safina has learned at school so far through the deaf awareness and communication sessions.

This is a heartening example of a volunteer deaf role model inspiring a courageous deaf child to inspire the children around her to learn about deafness and communication.

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