Isobel Blakeley: Please help us build a Deaf school in Rwanda

Posted on April 22, 2015

The girl in the photo below is called Zawadi. I would like to tell you about her and about other children like her here in 21st Century Rwanda.


Have you even wondered what it would have been like to have been born deaf into a poor family somewhere in rural Africa, or to have contracted Meningitis there and wake up in a silent world?

I imagine it’s a bit like it was in Britain, say 150 years ago, before the NHS, before state funded education, before BSL was recognised as a language, before hearing aids.

We have come a long way in Britain– look at the support there is now, and rightfully so!

I have lived in Rwanda for over a year, with a VSO (Voluntary Services Oversees) placement with some schools for Deaf children, and I really want to help them move from where they are now towards the type of support there is in Britain – but I don’t have 150 years to wait, and nor does Zawadi.

Zawadi is aged 6 and a new student here in Louis school. I love her! She has lots of character. I went into school on Wednesday, then when I came in the next day, I had had my hair cut.

She immediately started making excited noises and touching her head and pointing at me. Observant, communicative, full of life – what more could you ask for.

‘‘Look what I’ve made!’ her eyes say.

This is her story. Louis found her, sleeping at the side of the road one day. When he tried to speak to her, she did not respond. Louis thought she might be hungry, so he took her to a local house to ask for some food and they recognised her.

The P1 classroom. There's a  mud floor, poor lighting and teaching materials made from locally available materials on the wall.

The P1 classroom. There’s a mud floor, poor lighting and teaching materials made from locally available materials on the wall.

They showed Louis where she lived, so Louis took her home. The home is desperately poor. Her parents are divorced, so she lives with her mother and siblings. They told Louis that she was born deaf.

Louis told the mother that Zawadi could come to the school in the mornings but she should go home in the afternoons. This worked for two days, but after that the mother never came to fetch her.

So, knowing where she lived, Louis went to visit the mother, but the mother did not want to have her back! Zawadi is also HIV positive , (for which she has medication, which is free) and has broken, brown teeth implying poor nutrition and care. Her parents have shown no interest in her since she has been at school.

Trying to dry their washing.  The one tap for the whole school is there – above the blue bucket.

Trying to dry their washing. The one tap for the whole school is there – above the blue bucket.

The Government have no funds to support schools for ‘disabled’ children, who are supposed to attend their local school – Inclusion is the name of the game.

However, without good support, we all know that a child who cannot hear cannot learn in a completely oral/aural setting.

So some people, like Louis, have set up residential centres where these children can live together, learn Rwandan sign language, go to their local schools, with good support, and where the older ones can learn a trade.

Play time!

Play time!

Let me tell you about Louis’ school, Nyabihu Demonstration Centre for the Deaf in Western Rwanda. He started the school in January 2013 with 35 children. By the time next term starts, in April 2015, he will have over 100. Nearly all of the children come from very poor families, who cannot pay towards the school fees.

Louis rents the buildings where the children live. The buildings are old and the facilities are extremely basic.

Louis – the Head Teacher, having fun with one of the children!

Louis – the Head Teacher, having fun with one of the children!

On top of that, a road widening scheme means that the Centre is going to be cut in half and some of the accommodation lost. He has bought some land nearby, with his own savings, but all of his money is now gone.

He has land – but needs to build two residential blocks, some toilets and showers, offices, workrooms and a couple of classrooms. We think the whole cost won’t be more than £70,000. Can you imagine how much that would cost to build in the UK?

Please help.

We have already raised £6000, enough to level the land and build a security wall. But we now need £25,000 to build the first residential block and toilets and showers. You can find out more about Louis centre on the website

If you would like to donate, please do this through our Virgin Just Giving page, so that we can claim the tax back if you are a tax British tax payer.

The money is being handled by the British charity Chance for Childhood, who are funding some of the costs of the present Centre, without whom Louis would not be able to help these children. So your money is safe, and guaranteed to go towards this particular project.

Please help us to make the lives of these poor children a little better.

By Isobel Blakeley – retired Teacher of the Deaf from Suffolk.

To donate, click here:

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