There are over 50,000 hearing impaired people in Malawi, who face many serious challenges as there are extremely limited facilities to accommodate their needs. As recently as 2009 there were just 11 sign language interpreters working in the country, meaning that the deaf community frequently misses out on vital information and crucial services. People with hearing impairments are not benefiting from the current education system, as most of the schools in the country have no teachers who are expert in sign languages, resulting in increased illiteracy levels amongst the people who are deaf. Health campaigns, including those targeting HIV/AIDs awareness, frequently make no provision for those who require an alternative mode of communication.
Determined to Develop has been running a Deaf Club for the local community since June of this year. Through our partnership with the International Citizen Service, D2D worked on a pilot integrated program, which included three deaf volunteers (two Malawian and one from the UK). These volunteers, alongside other group members, and UK and Malawian interpreters, worked with D2D staff and local chiefs to identify and reach out to deaf children and adults in Chilumba. The group found that many of the deaf people from the area had no access to education or learning sign language, which meant they had limited ability to communicate with others. Based on the model of UK deaf clubs, which have been successful for many years, a deaf club of our own was formed. It has a focus on teaching sign language, and supporting both the social interaction and communication development of deaf adults, children and their families. For some members, this was the first time they had been able to communicate with family members. Though the club initially started as a result of a volunteer project, there was a focus on making the project sustainable from the outset. The volunteers helped to establish a Deaf Club Committee, which has ensured the group is still running. The club now meets on every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon here at Maji Zuwa, and is led by a very enthusiastic young deaf man, 28-year-old Claim Gondwe.
Across Malawi, there are other efforts underway to address the challenges faced by the Deaf Community. Malawi National Association of the Deaf (Manad) has launched Malawi’s Sign Language and Rights project aimed at addressing communication challenges facing the deaf. The project will see 20 teachers and 20 medical personnel trained in sign language for basic communication with deaf students and patients respectively. Many times deaf people do not proceed with their education because they fail to lip-read their teachers. In the health sector, too, there have been cases where the deaf were given the wrong prescription just because of communication breakdown. The project will aim to train some of these crucial service providers and alleviate some of the difficulties faced- but there is still a huge amount to be done.
Tawonga chomene (We thank you)