The Deaf in Uganda

The word reserved by the Lugandan community for the deaf. It crudely translates to stupid or unteachable in English. Many people have become so used to using this word for the deaf that they forget the people’s actual names.
What is it like to be a deaf child in Uganda? In most cases, you will be seen as mentally retarded, kasiru, and an unnecessary burden on the family, especially if you’re born into poverty. If your parents don’t simply abandon you at birth, you will likely live at home in neglect and abuse. In a country with an average family size of ten, you are the last priority. You’ll receive the least resources and work the most menial jobs. Educating you will seem like a waste of money, so you won’t go to school. You don’t learn to write or read, so you will have no means to express yourself. Your attempts to communicate through shouts and gestures will be misunderstood.

People will ignore, fear, ridicule, or harm you. If you’re beaten or raped, if your things are stolen, there’s no way for you to testify. What would your quality of life be without an education, without being literate? Perhaps you can learn basic life skills and survive on the land, but you won’t be able to find a job or marry or be a part of the community. If you can skirt the dangers of being deaf, you may be able to live out your life in isolation on what little you can provide for yourself. Still, many deaf children don’t make it past the obstacles in early life to even get to this stage.

How can we improve this picture? Negative cultural values take a long time to change, and medical aid can be difficult to access. There will always be deaf children in poor families, but they shouldn’t be made into illiterate pariahs. Education can break the silence and set the children on the path to self-sufficiency.