A beautiful morning with a touch of greeting like is dew to a plant yet just a meaningless happening to the deaf. A deaf can see the sunrise feel the breeze and also feel the birds whistle sweetly in the air but they won’t hear you’re a ‘hi’ said to them. At least not without some aid.
In Pece Division Gulu town, the deaf have found love, company and oneness in a disability centre that has existed since President Idi Amin’s era. Their leader is one of the most resilient deaf personalities, a standing rock and inspiration to the others wading the same boat of plight.
Allan Ogwang Nume is his name. The 34-year-old has had to privilege to attend formal education and has travelled to many countries, especially the United States, to meet donors or attend trainings on how to improve his advocacy for the deaf. This is a passion for him as a deaf person who meets so many but can say so little to express his feelings unless with the help of his sign language interpreter.
“Being deaf, one needs an interpreter all their lives to access services, interact with people, buy something at the shop or even miss going to church because there are always no sign language interpreters. I also risk being misunderstood when I move alone. It’s a trying and inconveniencing life,” Ogwang says.
Allan OgwangNume, 34 years old was born a normal boy. But at the age of Six years, Ogwang had a serious malaria attack. He got treatment later but remained partially deaf but never gave up on continuing school.
After completing his a degree course at Gulu Universuty, Ogwang would have admired to work in a classic office with air conditioner and a tea girl to serve him as he enjoys the comfort of a blue collar job, but chose to dedicate his life to the disabled and fighting for their plight. Today, he works with Gulu Disabled Persons Union as a project officer. He says this has been his home for the last 15 years.
Gulu Disabled Persons Union compound is teaming with life at the break of the day this reporter visits. The squealing of bats rent the air as they jostle for positions to hang from on a tree nearby. On seeing this reporter approach through the main gate, Ogwang grins widely. He has the warmth. The sign language interpreter beside him, Farouq Musema, exudes as much warmth. Musema is not just a sign language interpreter for Ogwang but also her personal aid.
“Welcome to our centre. This is our home,” says Ogwang, who has had a hearing impairment since childhood.
Determined to make it
The disability is something he says did not bog him down. He is married with six children who are all normal though they have had to learn to communicate to their father in sign language from childhood. Ogwang can hardly hear when someone talks to him though he has skills in interpreting body language, especially lip-reading.
He hopped from one school to another during his formative years in a bid to get special needs education but entirely gave up on the idea when “I realized that schools for the disabled were not teaching to my expectations.” He wanted to be with other normal learns although he always required special attention to understand well.
GULU. Among the schools Ogwang attended are Mbuya Nursery School, Kiswa Primary School, Ntinda Secondary and Lango College for his High School in Central Buganda region before joining Gulu University from where he graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Development Studies. He is a Mandela Washington fellow, and a tutor for YALI Civic education programme for youth on vocational skills in partnership with Gulu Comprehensive School, formerly Koro Vocational Institute in Omoro District.
Speaking to KML Daily, Ogwang says that after completing his education, he felt tied to the only place where people knew him, Gulu.
“It is hard to leave this place, this is my home. I feel free here because the people I live with understand me. Seeking another job would be just stressing. Few people pay attention to the deaf because they cannot understand them,” Ogwang says.
He wants to advocate for the plight of disabled persons, especially the deaf, because of the experiences he goes through in his personal life.
“If you are the only deaf person in a home, they always treat you like an outcast. Even at important family meetings that I feel I should contribute, I am always left out and they remember me at last. So they get a book and begin to scribble things for me to know what they are talking about. Sometimes I just walk out on them because no one wants to learn sign language to communicate to me.” Ogwang explains.
The hatch side
He adds that the life of a deaf person has always been hard because few people are willing to learn sign language thinking it is difficult.
“We are just struggling to survive. I need to move with an interpreter all my life to access services because people don’t know how to interact with us. Sign language is not hard because you use body language to express your feelings,” he says.
Also, Ogwang worries for the deaf pregnant mothers who go to access anternatal service at various health facilities. He says these mothers always come complaining to his office how they are treated badly during child birth.
He says the government needs to do more to have voices of deaf persons who are limited by their low level of education represented in the country.
In technology, Ogwang says the deaf are left out. They cannot get information of national importance because television stations care less about subtitle technology for news and announcements.
“By now our government should be taking interest in disability research on subtitles on television broadcasts, especially news, phones that translate words to text, apps for the disabled, among others.”
In the course of his advocacy for the deaf, Ogwang says promoting sign language across the district has been costly due to meager funding for their activities despite the huge demand by families with children who are deaf.
It costs about Shs80,000 to facilitate a sign language interpreter per day.
Gulu Disabled Persons Union, with which Ogwang works, is the oldest and largest organization working for persons with disability (PWDs) in northern Uganda. The Union was set in 1979 as a platform to ease PWDs access to food aid.