Can you not hear the voice of your brother or your sister, who is Deaf, crying out for justice?
A NEW LIFE AS A NEW PERSON
I was born in Burundi in central Africa in 1973, and born as a hearing person. I lost my hearing to meningitis at the age of 12. I did not know any Deaf people before or know the existence of sign language, so I became isolated and depressed as my hearing friends from primary school, that I used to play and talk with, deserted me and my family were helpless, not because they did not love me but because they did not know what to do or where to go for help.
Whilst my hearing friends continued and advanced in their education, I stayed home doing nothing for 3 years while my life became quieter and lonelier. Eventually my Dad found a school for me “EphphathaDeafSchool” in the city. The school was initiated by an American Deaf Missionary – Andrew Foster. I joined and two years later I finished at grade 6 – and that seemed to bring and end to my ambition of ever becoming a teacher as there was no opportunity to progress into higher education. It was like being at a crossroads and the only route I had was to attend an onsite, ill-equipped tailoring vocational unit. I felt desperate as tailoring was not something I enjoyed at all.
Many of my Deaf friends also had the same desire for an opportunity to progress on to higher education and attend university but the lack of prospects, coupling with ignorance and discrimination in Burundi society, made us feel powerless and left us without a hope of ever obtaining an university education.
When the war started in Burundi in 1996 I went into exile in Kenya and through an organisation called International Rescue Committee (IRC) who worked closely with the United Nations. I was asked to manage the Deaf Refugee Programme in a refugee camp in the northern part of Kenya close to Sudan. This allowed me to work with Deaf refugees from different countries in Africa including Sudan, Ethiopia, Eretria, Rwanda, Central Africa, Somalia and RD of Congo. I was constantly frustrated by both the lack of any basic education and communication amongst these Deaf people and after investigation I discovered the majority of them had never been in school despite their age. I came to realise that this lack of education and communication was a common problem for many Deaf people in many parts of Africa.
The needs of these Deaf refugees were great, physically, socially, educationally and spiritually. I continued with the existing Deaf unit/class that had been set up and then added another, and then I initiated a Social Deaf Club and an Association for Deaf Refugees and finally a Deaf Fellowship. These Alliances made it possible for the Deaf to come together and start to communicate reciprocally and mobilised them to stand up for their rights.
ARRIVAL IN UK
When I arrived in the UK in 2000, my first priority was to revive my educational dream and aspirations, as I believe that education is the key to unlock the future.
Whilst I enjoyed my work with Deaf from various countries I had been involved in, I was discontented with the fact that my own educational background was modest and not academically to a standard I knew I was capable of achieving.
I went to college then onto university to study sociology, law, psychology, disability, gender and so forth and graduated with a BA Degree in Social work in 2008. I have since worked as a qualified social worker within both the state and voluntary sectors across the UK.
Before I started my university studies; I did some voluntary work with Sign Health (formerly ????) Sign, NDCS, and the Westminster Society for people with learning disabilities, The Notting Hill Charity Shops and also worked for Action on Hearing Loss (AOHL). All these work experiences influenced my decision to embark on the social work course.
THE BIRTH OF ADAA
The reasons for forming Aurora Deaf Aid Africa – ADAA in 2007 were based on the clear evidence I saw of the desperate needs of the Deaf Community, particularly in Burundi and my own experience of living and working with Deaf people in Africa. The World Health Organization and the World Federation of the Deaf highlighted that there are between 70 million and 200 million Deaf people in the world who do not have access to education – people who often have never learnt to read, write, sign or otherwise communicate. In developing countries, at least 90% of Deaf people do not go to school.
Evidently, many Deaf people in Africa face an almost overwhelming lack of access to education and employment, health care, political participation, social and family life. This is the case for Burundi where ADAA started its work. When comparing Burundi’s Deaf situation and my past work with Deaf people in other countries in Africa there is clear evidence, and it can be clearly seen, that there is a concern regarding the plight of the Deaf in the country. I visited Burundi after being away for more than 10 years, hoping to see development and progress. However I was surprised to see that in fact the country had taken steps backwards.
Unlike before the war there were few Deaf students but presently there are many more Deaf children. There are suggestions that the increase in numbers of Deaf children may have been triggered by exposure to loud sounds including bomb noise and shotgun blasts during the war in Burundi. However research is needed into this disturbing situation. The inadequate information and education facilities are a major concern.
The statistics for Burundi are depressing; it is a country that went through several civil wars. The Association of Deaf in Burundi-ANSB estimates that there are more than 3000 Deaf school aged children yet there are only missionary schools. This lack of adequate educational facilities is a major concern. Obviously Deaf people, like other Disabled people in Burundi, are still the object of charity or missionary assistance. It is a major problem because there is an issue with the fact that the government are not prepared to fund the schools at all or provide any other basic services to this community.
I am passionate about the human rights agenda and my aim is to lead ADAA to seek to change social structures which perpetuate inequalities and injustices, and wherever possible work to eliminate all violations of human rights and in solidarity work with those who are disadvantaged and strive to alleviate poverty and to liberate vulnerable and oppressed people in order to promote social inclusion.
This is a huge challenge and change needs to come. The aim is to see every government convicted over their lack of support for their Deaf and Disabled communities and we aim to obtain a strong commitment to the United Nations for the rights for the Deaf and Disabled. Deaf people are entitled to the same rights as everyone and their needs must be highlighted and the necessary actions set in place.
I am often frustrated and disturbed to witness that even in the 21st century people still discriminate against the Deaf and that governments are still unwilling to acknowledge their responsibilities to support Deaf people. ADAA is here to stand firmly with Deaf people regardless where they live; to pursue and stand up for their rights.
In this day and age; Deaf people everywhere should have access not only to education but also be able to get a job, own a house and have a family.
While ADAA aims to work in every town and with Deaf communities across Africa; it is not a “do it alone” organisation, I encourage individuals and other organisations to join in and work with us for the same cause in order to eliminate the barriers that prevent the Deaf people from fully participating in social, political, economic activities and ensure that they do not continue to experience exclusion from the development program within their country.
ADAA have been working with Disability Development Partners (DDP), an international development organisation, this has led to the first research of its kind conducted in Burundi, where there has never before been data available in relation to the Deaf community. Although DDP is a hearing led organisation it has shown a great passion for working with Deaf children and their families in Burundi. Their involvement has also led to a Deaf secondary school being opened and other income generating activities program.
YES I WANT TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
ADAA continues to invite whoever is interested to come and work alongside us or be involved in any way possible for the advancement of our projects. Whether you as an individual have skills to contribute to our trustee’s management team or whether you are an organisation and want to make a difference to Deaf people in Africa, you will be in good hands and we can be a strong bridge for you. Since you can read and understand this; you are not deaf to the voice of your voiceless Deaf brothers around the world.
You do not need a university degree to make a difference or to notice the needs of people overlooked by their own government and even families in some instances. Together we can make ADAA a catalyst of change, bring people together across the world. “If one person can make a difference, then imagine what a thousand of us can do.”
WANT TO KNOW MORE?
Facebook: Aurora Deaf Aid Africa
SMS: 07715 437 238