The Observer (Kampala)

8 November 2012

Uganda: Born to Sign - Hope Agwang Champions Deaf Community

Since childhood, Hope Agwang was ready to fight and protect her family from stigmatisation because her siblings and mother are deaf.

She quickly learnt sign language to communicate with her family, something she has now excelled in as an interpreter and chair at Uganda National Association of Sign Language Interpreters (UNASLI).

Agwang also works as an interpreter at the Uganda National Association of the Deaf (UNAD). "After dad separated from mum because she and six children were deaf, I was traumatized but inspired to pursue studies in sign language interpretation," says Agwang as she discussed the prejudice her family had to endure. "I wanted to help them find meaning to life by helping them connect with hearing people."

After her S.6 at Ngora Girls School, she pursued a diploma in Sign Language Interpretation at Kyambogo University. As a student, she engaged in freelance interpretation for different organizations like the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (NUDIPU) and the International Republican Institute.

This experience fulfilled the adage, 'pity is akin to love' in her life because she grew to love the deaf community more than before.

Her typical day:

Every day, Agwang, a resident of Gayaza, travels to UNAD offices in Namanve. Although most of her duties are not pre-planned, a typical day's work cannot go without her interacting with diverse people. "We receive many hearing visitors who need an interpreter and I basically do that and also help answer phone calls," she says.

Although sign language interpretation may seem non-conventional to many, Agwang feels it as a selfless service.

Achievement:

We all achieve different milestones in life and Agwang's came with her election as UNASLI chairperson. Seeing the organization's initiative of boosting the numbers and work of sign language interpreters across Uganda grow from scratch gives her pride, joy and confidence. Her hard work has earned her praises from colleagues.

"Hope is one of the best interpreters we have in Uganda and in fact, she manages all types of interpretation and this is why I rate her as an international interpreter," says Doreen Kawuma, a colleague.

Hopes and dreams:

Agwang wishes that UNASLI partners with the government soon so that sign language interpreters receive countrywide recognition, mainstreaming in government structures like schools. She also hopes for sign language interpretation studies to be upgraded from diploma level to bachelor's and master's degrees.

"With the upgrading of these studies, I expect specialization courses like court interpretation," Agwang says.

However, achieving these will come after countering existing impediments like lack of government cooperation and the community's failure to acknowledge the fact that deaf people need interpreters.

On a positive note however, Agwang is currently in advocacy talks with the ministry of Gender in a bid to lobby government support to recognize and boost sign language interpreters.

Likes and dislikes:

Agwang enjoys dancing, reading and engaging in community initiatives like the Rotaract Club. She also enjoys listening to soul and jazz music.

'What makes you happy, Hope?'I inquire.

"People who love what they are doing no matter the rewards," she says with a definitive look in her eyes.

However, she is dismayed by the fact that there are many marginalised people in society, who are underprivileged. On that note, she wishes for God to uplift her from her current position to one where she will have enough resources to give back to the vulnerable.

Family:

Agwang is married and is a mother of two boys. Because of them, she is inspired to wake up each day for she sees a bright future ahead of them.

"My eight-year-old son always says he is going to be a doctor while the last born of one and a half years already loves sign language and uses it a lot," she says.

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