- Most of the disabled children drop out from primary schools and do not continue with secondary education because there are no schools for them
- Many of them are nicknamed and are abandoned as social outcasts but Pirwoth, a deaf child wants to become a role model and become a change activist with determination to excel in the PLE and continue with education beyond primary school
- In rare cases, tumours can also cause conductive hearing loss. Birth defects and diseases passed on by genes can do this, too. More rarely, deafness or hearing loss can occur suddenly
By Ronald Orachwun
Nebbi- Sixteen year-old Edmond Pirwoth is one of the few deaf children in Uganda who is determined to compete with able-people in the literally current harsh employment market in the country, despite the negative attitude the community attach to disabled children especially those with hearing impairment.
He got what he terms as “a life time opportunity” to sit for the 2018 Primary Leaving Examinations PLE at Jukia Primary School in Nebbi Municipality, paid by his financially incapacitated Grandmother, Ms Leotisa Ayomirwoth, with whom he lives.
Pirwoth did not give up with life after his parents abandoned him as a social outcast due to his condition.
“My grandson has been downgraded to the level of a “dog” by his own parents, they don’t want to even hear his name. They consider him as a misplaced child in the family because such condition of complete deafness has never been experienced in the family. I struggled to pay his fees and now I want government to intervene and help this kid to go to school because he is bright and shows signs of becoming someone important in the future.”
Ayomirwoth added that: “We want government to come out and give us a helping hand. Our children cannot study as far as Kampala because we don’t have the money to take them to school and they are expensive. We want government to put up a secondary school for our deaf children here in Nebbi district. Government is missing so many opportunities by neglecting children with hearing impairment because they have so much to offer in the community.”
But Pirwoth is optimistic that he will obtain first grade that will enable him to further his academic life to secondary school next year in his quest to disapprove the people who despise his condition.
He wants to qualify as a carpenter sometime in life and open up one of the biggest and most vibrant carpentry workshops in West Nile region, which will be a one stop learning center and provide jobs for the youth in the region.
His dream was inspired by a seasonal carpentry workshop in Paidha town council, Zombo district where he previously stayed and the pathetic conditions disabled children go through as they strive to live in a world where the law of the jungle, ‘Survival for the fittest’ still exists.
Speaking through an interpreter to West Nile Press Online: Pirwoth said: “I want to help my fellow deaf friends. I know life is hard for them out there just like what I am going through. I have seen and my friends tell me so many problems they go through especially failing to go to school. It really bothers me a lot that the life we disabled children are leading are despised by others, I want to assure my friends with similar conditions like mine that you should take heart and wait for me to complete school by God’s grace and open a carpentry workshop for you to get jobs.”
Pirwoth says the suffering he has gone throughout his primary school life makes him feel like being part of the solution, a reason he wants to study hard and provide a solution, however small it may be.
Ms Shamim Iracan, an official from Uganda Society for Disabled Children USDC Nebbi area says access to education for the disabled children in Uganda is a challenge. She says a number of children are finding it hard to go to school due to a number of reasons.
“There is a lot of stigma and segregation against children with disabilities. those with hearing impairment are considered by our local community to have the worst or the ones who will never do anything useful in life. Everybody will want to call you ‘Abobo’ once they realize that you are deaf and using sign language to talk, people will do all they can to disorganize you and probably compel you to commit suicide just because you are deaf,” she said.
She added that: “Interestingly, parents of those disabled children will also dissociate their children with the affairs of the family and that is why most children especially those with hearing impairment will stay with relatives and not with their biological parents.”
Ms Iracan said sometimes disabled children down play their own potential in life. She says despite being provided for under 35 (1) of the 1995 Ugandan constitution, respect for persons with disabilities’ right and dignity is yet to be achieved.
Mr Michael Avone, a special needs teacher at Jukia Primary School in Jukia Hill Ward Nebbi Municipality, said besides the long distance to school, most children with disabilities come from very poor backgrounds, which does not necessitate them to attend quality education from very very far due to the high expenses involved.
Civil Society Organizations and parents of children with hearing impairments in Nebbi district have jointly petitioned government to consider establishing a special secondary school for children with hearing impairment in the district in order to help them to continue with their education after completing primary level.
They argue that because of lack of a secondary school for those with special needs especially those with hearing impairment; a lot of talent has been wasted while others with the zeal to continue with studies after primary living examinations, it has been dissatisfaction and frustration.
Currently, the Government of Uganda promotes a twin-track approach to provision of education for people with disabilities that is promoting both inclusive education and special needs education where it is needed.
The draft Special Needs and Inclusive Education Policy (2011) provides for a number of approaches for delivering special needs education. These include home based care programs, special schools where children with severe and often multiple impairments receive specialized support in methodology, instructional materials and assistive devices.
However, Mr Kizito Oyema, the Head teacher of Jukia Primary school in Nebbi municipality where inclusive education is being promoted says the policy has fallen short of its mandate of providing quality education especially for children with disabilities.
“How do you expect a child with hearing impairment or a blind child to compete favorably with children who are normal, government should rethink this policy and consider providing a special school for these children, unless we want them to disappear from school? These children go through a lot stigmatization from the normal children. These children would learn and probably transcend beyond the primary level of education,” Kizito said.
Official records from the Nebbi district education department shows that about 94 per cent of children with disabilities and hearing impairment in particular who start school in primary One through the inclusive education have never progressed beyond the primary level of education.
Mr Lemiza Charles the Nebbi district inspector of schools in charge of special needs says government has no plans of establishing a special secondary school for the deaf.
He says the cost of establishing and running a special needs secondary school is very high, adding that government cannot waste money on a project where the beneficiaries are very few, adding that teachers of special needs education are also very few, something which cannot compel government to establish a special school for the deaf in the district.
“One thing remains clear that resources for establishing such projects are very expensive. Besides paying additional money in terms of salaries for special needs teachers, the learning aid are also expensive. That is why we are promoting the inclusive education where learners are taught at once. We understand the challenges but if special needs teachers can organize themselves and make their request formal, government may consider their plight and intervene,” Mr Lemiza said.
What is deafness
Deafness is the complete inability to hear sound. Many different conditions lead to partial and total deafness. Ear infections, fluid buildup behind the eardrum, holes in the eardrum, and problems with the middle ear bones can cause deafness from conductive hearing loss, including presbycusis, or old age.
Some kinds of sensorineural hearing loss or deafness may be caused by infectious diseases, such as shingles, meningitis, and cytomegalovirus. In childhood, the auditory nerve can be damaged by mumps, meningitis, German measles (rubella), or inner ear infections.