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Assisting deaf children: Everyone has a role to play

It was not until activists explained her problem at the school that the students' and teachers' attitude towards Amina changed. 

This unfortunate incident was related by Ms Abeida Rashid, the Director, and Department of People Living with Disabilities in Zanzibar to the First Vice-President at a gathering to launch books on sign language in Zanzibar last week.

She said the beautiful young Amina (not her real name) is a bright student who could not communicate with her classmates and teachers effectively at school class nor with her family at home. 

The Director says that Amina is an example of the many deaf children facing problems in communicating just because most people do not know how to communicate with deaf people."

Results from the survey conducted by the Zanzibar Association of Deaf (CHAVIZA) indicate that there are over 2,600 deaf people on Unguja and Pemba Islands, including children and yet only few people know the sign language to communicate.  "Everyone, people including clerics, parents, teachers, law enforcers should learn sign language for easy communication with children and adults who are hard-of-hearing," Ms Abeida said in Zanzibar.

Abeida said there are still many disappointing cases of mistreatment and neglect of the deaf especially children and she asked the public to support the sign language learning project. "When you have a child with hearing impairment in your classroom, a teacher needs to be careful not to assume that this student is misbehaving."

Hassan Mohamed, 15, says that students have varying degrees of hearing impairment. "Some students are labelled as troublesome and are punished by teachers just because they do not understand what the teacher is saying. In fact many students and teachers need to learn how to communicate with deaf students.

Since it may take some time before modern hearing facilities for the deaf are available, Dr Islam Seif, Deputy Permanent Secretary, First Vice-President's Office, emphasizes the need for learning sign language.  Zanzibar launched a sign language learning project to enable people communicate with deaf people.  The campaign involves motivating adults and children to learn sign language by studying books/pamphlets which contains signs and communication language skills for the deaf.

Launching the books at the State University of Zanzibar (SUZA), Seif said: "Every person has the   right to information and education is a right for all children. Let us all learn the sign language for easy communication with deaf children at home, school, and other hearing-impaired people. Parents, teachers, journalists, and all other people should know the sign language for easy communications with the deaf," Seif said.

According to the chairperson of the Zanzibar Association for deaf, Mr Jide Khamis, the 2011-2015 'sign language learning' project supported by USAID, VSO, Global Deaf Connection, and Digital Office and Print services is aimed at encouraging people to learn the sign language.

CHAVIZA chairperson says that persons with any type of disability have the right to access an inclusive, quality and free primary education and secondary education on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they live. 

Causes of hearing impairment
Health experts say there are many reasons why a child can be born deaf or become deaf early in life. It    is not always possible to identify the reason. There are possible causes before a child is born and after birth.  Some children are born deaf due to  genetic factors. Deafness can be passed down in families. Sometimes the gene involved may cause additional disabilities or health problems.


Deafness can also be caused by complications during pregnancy. Illnesses such as rubella and herpes can cause a child to be born deaf. There is also a range of medicines that damage the hearing of a baby before birth. Being born prematurely can increase the risk of becoming deaf. Premature babies are often more prone to infections that cause deafness. They may also be born with severe jaundice or experience a lack of oxygen at some point during birth and any of these cases can cause deafness.

According to 'deaf child worldwide' organization, in early childhood there is a range of things that can be responsible for a child becoming deaf. Infections like meningitis, measles and mumps can cause deafness.  Occasionally deafness is caused by an injury to the head or exposure to loud noise. These can cause damage to the hearing system.

MZEE Shoka tested HIV positive ten years ago. ...

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Author: ISSA YUSSUF, Zanzibar

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