Stella lives as a single mother and one of her five children is deaf. This child, Hillary, was born well, but he developed a sickness and swelling on the ear which has left him deaf for eight years now, despite Stella’s efforts to seek treatment for her son.
As a mother Stella faces challenges. Members of the community can show negative attitudes towards Hillary and his deafness. He becomes aggressive when other children call him “abobo” meaning useless. There is a communication gap and mother and son have been making do with gestures. Hillary can seem quarrelsome and fail to follow instructions, bringing one thing when asked to fetch another. Stella struggles to find enough funds to meet her family’s basic needs too.
Hillary’s primary school in Nebbi District has participated in our project in the West Nile area of Uganda with our partner SignHealth Uganda. This project has given both Stella and Hillary the chance to learn the basics of Ugandan Sign Language, which is helping them to bridge the communication gap.
The project has also seeded mutual support groups for the parents and carers of deaf and hearing impaired children surrounding the participating schools. Stella has stepped forwards to become the chairperson of her local group, getting involved in leading group meetings.
As part of the parent support group, Stella has joined a village savings and loan association and taken part in activities to support her family and the learning needs of the local deaf children. These activities include tailoring, subsistence farming, selling fish and making liquid soap for sale. The project team organised training for the parents in liquid soap making.
Stella has gone further, taking part in home visits to encourage other parents to support their deaf and hearing impaired children and send them to school, and mobilising other parents to join the parent support group.
“I have made progress, for example, sending my son to school. He is now in Primary 3, whereas I thought he would not study anymore. I can now communicate with my son in sign language and I have become chairperson of the parent support group because of my son,” Stella said.
Stella now has a dream to see that her deaf son Hillary achieves both O Levels and A Levels and takes a course in order to get employment opportunities.
Headline photograph: families and teachers participating in a deaf awareness review session at Hillary’s primary school in Nebbi District.