Ceilidh O’Sullivan: Setting up a Deaf school in Uganda

Posted on May 17, 2012

Could you imagine moving to Uganda to set up a school to teach Deaf children?

How about being covered in red dust, riding motorbikes, playing soccer and grazing your knee?

Well that’s what I did!

I am a Deaf woman from Australia who first visited Uganda in 2010, when I was nineteen. I went by myself.

I travelled in good faith and on my arrival, I met my friend, the Director of Boanerges Deaf Initiative (BDI for short) who I had communicated with for almost a year before visiting.

Between May and June 2010, I volunteered at an old school building that we borrowed through the BDI. There, I met ten Deaf kids aged from five to fourteen. When they saw me they looked so happy!

I taught them in a room where the walls looked as though they might fall… There were no windows and doors, just doorways and holes in the walls. Rain would come and sting us as we tried to teach and the children tried to learn. Soon my friends and I decided to rent a school facility to move the kids there and before long, more deaf children joined us.

I walked and walked through various communities… visiting Deaf children’s homes and their families. Why? Because I wanted to see how they live. These families are poor and live in poverty. I ate meals at their homes and saw where they sleep and who cares for them.

One night my friend and I visited one of our student’s homes. Our student led us through dark alleys, round various corners, walking among rubbish and carefully stepping over creeks of water. I saw his home and where his bed was. He slept on a dirty floor, on a white bag used for grain. Inside, I ached.

In the Ugandan language, Deaf kids are called ‘Kasiru,’ meaning ‘fool’ or ‘stupid’.

Deaf children are thought to have no chance to do well in school; they think it’s a waste of time. Deaf kids in Uganda are seen as a disease and a curse so some families reject their child, lock them away and even starve them. Some children are even tied to a tree, treated like a dog.

People spoke in shock and shame about Deaf kids that I held hands with as we walked.

‘Why is she with that Kasiru?’ they asked. I told them that I am no different to them. I am Deaf just like them. We share a common language and understanding and I try to tell them that Deaf people can live like everyone else.

Being white, people seemed amazed that I could be Deaf – like those they see as a curse. They think white people are perfect.

Encouraging parents and communities to accept Deaf children was hard work, but many have changed and decided to love their Deaf children and give them a chance of education.

We open up schools free of charge because families are so poor. We support each other in other ways such as donating food for kids to eat at school. That is a way of encouraging parents to be involved with their child’s life.

During my time in Uganda I was chosen to be the Australian representative for BDI and Deaf children of Uganda, and I still am today.

Then, suddenly, my two months were up, and I was on the plane to go back to Australia, unsure if I was meant to leave. I felt like I was leaving my own tribe of Deaf people behind. When I was home, I felt like a piece of me was still in Uganda.

Later, in 2011, my friend came to visit me in Australia and we worked together sharing our experiences of working with Deaf children in Uganda. We had been great friends for a few years… then we became engaged! I will be married to a wonderful man who shares my passion for serving Deaf people.

I returned to Uganda for a few weeks last Christmas, visiting my fiancé and his family, the Deaf children and other friends who work with us. This time, we bought some land outside of Kampala with the help of a friend, to build a school in the future.

Being in Uganda again enabled me to focus on the needs of Deaf children and to find a way to support them. Again, I returned home, leaving those I love behind.

I returned to work and decided to support a school-building project. We are currently building it in Kampala, on a piece of land donated towards Deaf children. This way, they will have their own place to go to.

My fiancé and I are getting married this year in Australia, and together we will fly home to Uganda, the place I call home.

I will live there and teach Deaf children, encourage families and communities, and running many projects. I know that we can change the idea of being Deaf in Uganda by just being there.

The love and support of my mother and friends has helped me follow my dreams. They are to help Deaf children in Uganda.

You can follow Ceilidh O’Sullivan on Twitter as @DeafUganda and find out all about her life and her project by visiting www.deafhearing.org

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