If it’s February it must the annual ETCof PWD trustee trip to Gulu and District. Visiting Northern Uganda to see the ETC@GDPU project, the business groups and individuals we have been supporting in their search for independence, a sustainable business, respect and dignity.
Nyeko Rac, the hairdressers group way out of Gulu in Acet, on the road to Moroto, has always been lively. When we saw them last year Lillian, their self-declared leader, (who said firmly that the key to business success was having a strong leader) asked for further literacy and numeracy lessons. We agreed, but were worried about Lakot Nancy, a profoundly deaf member of the group who wouldn’t get much from spoken lessons. Last year Nancy was withdrawn and had little communication with her fellow hairdressers, there was obvious tension.
After some discussion about Nancy with Gulu Disabled Persons Union who deliver the programme, we paid for a sign language interpreter, also asking that other local young deaf people be included. Isolation is an obvious side effect of profound deafness, particularly if you only have a little ‘local’ sign language. We were concerned that Nancy might find lessons with people who were not in her business or at her level, difficult.
On the contrary, Ajok Emma, the ETC@GDPU project officer, reported that Nancy was really enjoying it, helping out with the teaching, making new friends; company and interaction. Musema Faruk the other ETC@GDPU project officer, also told us that her sign language had significantly improved too. Nancy just repeated phrases before he said: “often it was not a conversation, she just signed the same thing over and over. Now she is ‘talking’ well.”
That improvement was clear when we met the hairdressers and new deaf students in Acet last week. Nancy was the liveliest we have seen her, sparkling someone said. She has a new business place with another hairdresser and was continuing her mobile work, travelling to clients. Her relationship with Lilian seemed good and Lilian was using some sign language with her too, which she hadn’t before; confidence all round.
As we have learnt to expect in development work, every step forward leads to a new issue. In the small hairdressing salon room at Acet were, along with their signing literacy teacher, two profoundly deaf young lads from the classes, obvious candidates for vocational training. Bright and lively but with no skills training and not much schooling. Their new teacher was very proud of them, they could now write and read their own name and were progressing well. But they need so many more lessons, who would pay for them? They were desperate to work, to learn more, but how?
Not only that, we were introduced to a primary aged school girl, also profoundly deaf and awkward and shy with so many strangers, especially white people, although very smart in her uniform. Her father had brought her, there is no provision in this district for the deaf and he didn’t know what to do. She goes to a local school, yet there was no support there and the teacher could not help, we saw the girls school book, it was just scribbles. During our time in the salon, the girl slowly opened up, started to enjoy the company. Although her signing was rudimentary, she began to use it well, lots of ‘chatter’ with the others, lovely to see but her overall situation was heartbreaking.
ETCof PWD is not set up to deal with disability as such, what we know about is vocational education and project management, we rely on delivery partners like GDPU for specific expertise. To date we have been working with those who have already had some basic training. So, what to do about the young lads and the small girl and probably many more like her? Apparently Acet is a notable cluster for profound deaf cases.
Because the father was there, Faruk and Emma the two project officers from GDPU could tell him that there were possible primary schools in Gulu for his daughter, although she would have to board and there would be extra costs. They would continue to advise him.
And the two young men? They are very keen to become motorbike repairers: “Otherwise we just sit” they signed to Faruk. Currently there is nowhere for them to train, and no fund to pay for the literacy, numeracy and signing lessons to get them to the level they need. Can ETCof PWD help? Will there be a new vocational training programme for them? Well, interesting you should mention that. Why not see the next installments of this newsletter to find out?
PS We have just had an email from Ojok Patrick (GDPU Co-ordinator) to say that he has arranged an interview for the girl and her father with Laroo Primary School in Gulu. It has good provision for the deaf. He hopes they can also find a sponsor to pay for her boarding. We keep our fingers crossed.