The Monitor (Kampala)

2 November 2009

Uganda: Education Unleashes Potential Among Deaf

Kampala — Member of Parliament for people with disability, Mr Alex Ndeezi is the epitome of what an education can do for the deaf.

Ndeezi says that as long as he has an interpreter, he is able to execute his parliamentary duties, speak and officiate at functions and carry out all functions effectively.

He told Daily Monitor in an interview, that education has made a difference for him as it allows him to communicate and get employment.

Ndeezi graduated from Makerere University in 1997 with a degree in Social Science and now holds a Masters Degree in Human Rights. According to him, education is an essential breakthrough that all deaf people should enjoy.

Unfortunately, very often, if a child is born deaf, blind or disabled, he is considered a non-productive member of society. But deaf people who have been to school say they are often underestimated. "When I was at school, I could try to lip-read the teacher but would not understand yet I very much wanted to study.

The teachers could beat us every day so that we can pick what they are teaching," narrates Ms Florence Mukasa who is also deaf.

That was before she joined Uganda School for the Deaf. After her primary education, she joined Nakawa College (now Mubs) where she studied English and typing.

Ms Mukasa also later acquired a diploma in organisation management and sign language interpretation. Today, she works with the Uganda National Association of the Deaf (UNAD) as a gender and theatre coordinator. She is also married with two children and she attributes all this success to her education.

"People who are disabled but can do something should stop sympathising with themselves and should not expect help from other people. God made you disabled but he must have given you a skill. if you have a skill, share it and use it to achieve a goal," Ms Mukasa says.

Uganda School of the Deaf in Ntinda is the oldest such institution and serves 200 pupils. On October 30, the school celebrated its golden jubilee but the head teacher Ms Juliet Tumuhairwe says they are handicapped by lack of infrastructure and reading materials.

"The school has only 23 professional teachers; there are no staff quarters, desks are few, text books are almost not there and there is need for improvement of teacher's salary," Ms Tumuhairwe told Daily Monitor. She says most of her students drop out after Primary 7 because there are no institutions to absorb them.

According to the development manager of Sense International Mr Joseph Walugembe, there are 1.8m deaf and blind persons in Uganda. Sense International provides training for sign language teachers and special needs learning materials, in addition to supporting children and families with disabled persons.

He however says that these interventions are not enough compared to the number of people who need the services.

"To train the deaf is so hard yet they have the mental potential to achieve like every one else," Mr Walugambe says. "They need special teachers and equipment designed to unleash their talent." MP Ndeezi told Daily Monitor people with disabilities have limited education opportunities, face handicaps in communication in public places and are seldom offered employment.

"If a family cannot take their child to a school with disability facilities then they have to remain at home. Government should give bursaries to disabled children from poor families," Ndeezi said.

Uganda Society of the Deaf chairman Al-Hajji Badru Bunkeddeko says deaf people and their families are the most qualified and best equipped to support, inform and advocate for the deaf community.

However, their efforts are hindered by limited access to education.

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