Phoebe Tay: The lessons I learnt from Ceilidh O’Sullivan’s work with Deaf children in Uganda

Posted on January 31, 2014

It all started with an e-mail in 2009. Ceilidh had finished high school. She was working as a teacher aide with Deaf kids in her primary school in Bundaberg. Ceilidh had taken a keen interest in visiting Uganda after a friend of hers came back from a trip there.

After doing some research on Deaf organisations in Uganda on the internet, she stumbled upon information on the Boanerges Deaf Initiative (BDI). An e-mail to the director of BDI, Joel Mwesigwa, to enquire about the work of the organisation followed.

Little did Ceilidh know that the man she was corresponding with on the other side of the world, would become her husband. In 2010, arrangements were made for her to get there. She flew over solo at the age of 19 where she met Joel and worked alongside him for two months.


Ceilidh describes her first visit to Uganda as eye-opening which created a deep lasting impression on her. When asked to share an incident or two that happened in Uganda that really impacted her, Ceilidh mentioned:

The poverty in Uganda had a huge impact on me. I walked everywhere with Joel as we had no car during my first visit. I saw so much. Suffering was rampant. I wanted to help fix things but I couldn’t.

I visited a Deaf student’s home to meet his mother and have a chat. I spotted a small baby at the corner of the house on the concrete. It was the neighbour’s baby. The baby had a downcast look on his face. I wondered why his mother left him behind. I carried the baby and put him back in his one bedroom old home. I was at a loss as to what to do. When Joel and I left the house, I pondered for the rest of the afternoon.

In the evening, I told Joel that I had to buy some groceries and baby essentials for the family of the baby. So, Joel and I got what we could with little money. At night, we walked to the abode. A candle had been lit up in the home. Two tired and hungry young boys let us inside.

We put the groceries in the corner. The baby was asleep on the dirty bed. Joel and I handed the boys some bread. We left the meat and the rest of the groceries for the mother to cook. I learnt that the mother had gone out in search for food and money to bring home. It was common for her to come home around midnight.

What I saw that day really changed me. Deep down, I was upset but there was little I could do. I could only provide some food for the children and be happy knowing that they would not fall asleep, hungry that night. There are many families in the same plight all over the city. I just helped one family because I was able to.

When the two months ended, Ceilidh decided to go back to Uganda for the second time. She knew that God had set her heart on the country and its people. She was not able to return straight away. So, Joel came to Australia in 2011 and the couple got engaged.

As part of their work with BDI, Ceilidh and Joel built a school on a piece of donated land. They called it the Deaf Elite Education Center.



After their engagement, Joel returned to Uganda while Ceilidh remained in Australia for nine months to work. She gave a huge percentage of her wages to Joel in Uganda so they could slowly build the school.

By the time they married in Australia in September 2012, the school was up and running with about 30 Deaf children. Plans were made thereafter for Ceilidh to be in Uganda permanently. Ceilidh returned in January 2013 where she stayed for four months. However, she fell ill which led her returning to Australia to recuperate. She has already returned to Uganda and hopes to raise enough support so she will be able to stay there and continue her ministry.


The couple hope to provide a better future for Deaf children who are rejected by the community and even their own parents. The school provides education not only to Deaf children, but to parents, families and other people who wish to learn Ugandan Sign Language.

Ceilidh is passionate about teaching Art and Craft at the school. She uses her skills to educate the children and adults about Art and enable them to develop skills. As part of the project, she sells the artworks and crafts to raise funds for the school.

Joel does a lot of other work to financially support the school while Ceilidh focuses on social media to raise awareness about the needs of the school. She informs people of child or teacher sponsorship opportunities so that the Ugandan Deaf kids can access an education. Volunteer programs for people who wish to visit them at the school are also organised.


Joel and Ceilidh also own a small farm. Corn, cassava and banana trees are planted there. The crops are used to provide food for the school when they are harvested. Additionally, there is a small pig project on the farm in the hope that it will expand and provide an income and food.

In the future, Ceilidh hopes to see the construction of a warehouse or workshop on the farm where programs will be run, to impart skills to Deaf people so they can set up their own businesses. She welcomes anyone to come over and lend a helping hand. Her motto: “Start small, Dream big!”

Despite all her achievements and the work she has done, life in Uganda has not been without its challenges. Ceilidh found that there were several cultural differences between Australia and Uganda.

Life in Uganda is hectic and people rely on each other. They are responsible for the needs of their family as well as the community. It took her a while to get used to having no space because she grew up accustomed to having a lot of space in her own home.

She describes the traffic as horrendous. What she found bizarre was seeing men on motorbikes with a cow on the seat. Trucks travelling to the villages were overloaded with people.

Although Ceilidh had much adapting to do, she states that her entire experience in Uganda has been life-changing:

God has taught me to be simple and patient. Since being involved with BDI, I stopped enjoying shopping and wanting nice things for myself. I just want to be there in Uganda helping them with whatever I have and be thankful for what I have and don’t have.

I learnt that in Uganda people rely on people, not on money or things. If one has inadequate food because of lack of money, they have a family member or friend whom they can approach, and there is usually enough to go around.

I learnt that a very small amount of money or a small gift means a great deal to the people in Uganda. So ever since being involved in the ministry, I never worried about receiving birthday or Christmas presents for me. I learnt to be contented with what I had.

What I learnt from speaking to Ceilidh is the importance of living simply and there is so much more to life than merely living for myself.

The recent news about the birth of the son of Prince William and Kate Middleton has made me stop to ponder. I was amazed at how many people from all over the world have sent presents to the baby.

What about those children in poverty who have never received presents because their family and friends cannot afford it? How about using the money to sponsor a Deaf child so that access to an education is possible?

After that, I also reflected on a book I read titled “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan saying that we ought to downgrade so that others can upgrade.

If everyone possessed that mindset, then all the people in the world would have enough to live on. No one would be poor or hungry. Ceilidh is a living example of this principle.

Her story has reminded me that there are so many people out there in the world living in poverty. There are people with greater needs than my own needs.

“Live simple so that others may simply….live.” ~ Ceilidh Mwesigwa

Read Ceilidh’s previous article about her work with us, ‘Setting up a Deaf school in Uganda’ by clicking here .

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Phoebe Tay is a Deaf freelance writer from Singapore who currently resides in Melbourne. She was born with profound hearing loss in both ears. Phoebe grew up oral and learnt to sign when she was 19. She is passionate about writing articles on issues around Deafness and human rights. Phoebe also has spent over 5 years as a Teacher of the Deaf. She wants to work in the field of international development and is currently aspiring to use her writing skills to advocate for the rights of Deaf people at an international level.

To read other articles Phoebe has written, feel free to visit her blog at


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