It is estimated that 360 million people (328 million adults and 32 million children) have disabling hearing loss. Many of these live in areas so remote that there’s no support for deaf people at all.
Channel 4’s recent Unreported World series explored a tragic story of loneliness and helplessness. It followed the story of a boy named Patrick who, among others, was born totally deaf. He lives in a remote area of northern Uganda, and so there are no schools for deaf children. He has never had a conversation. He is 15. This is the story of so many in remote regions across the globe where education is lacking. It means that all sorts of people, from little boys playing alone, to old women living their whole lives in solitude, can never do what most take for granted – talk to someone.
There are various charities set up to combat this issue. One such is Deaf Child Worldwide (DFC). They work in South Asia, East Africa and Latin America. They describe their goal as ‘supporting deaf children to overcome poverty, inequality and isolation’. Children are born deaf for a variety of reasons, or may become deaf during their life. It can simply be genetic, and thus may be passed down through a family despite there being no previous family history of deafness. In early childhood, infections like meningitis, measles and mumps, all much more common in the developing world, can cause deafness.
Some of the people they have helped include 10 year old Farzana. At the age of just 3 years old, she was abandoned by her mother after being diagnosed as deaf. Raised by her grandmother, her family ‘neglected her, and saw no point in trying to teach her anything’. Just a year ago, Farzana simply didn’t smile. This was before one of DFC’s many partners, Child In Need India took her in. She went missing aged 3, presumed kidnapped. Upon being found ten months later, Farzana ‘withdrew into herself’, traumatised by the events since she went missing. However, having no form of communication, Farzana could not speak about what had happened at all. There was no outlet to express her depression, and no way of explaining her disappearance. She remained ‘isolated’. Her father left home two years later. Farzana remained a ‘sad, lonely little girl’. Her family brought Farzana to Child In Need India. There she received ‘counselling, was taught how to draw and began learning Indian Sign Language (ISL)’. Farzana was given a voice. Now, she has learnt ‘shapes and letters, can match words with pictures and can write her own name and address’. Her family is also given regular training in sign language in order to communicate with her. Farzana is now a happy, confident child with a creative interest in arts and crafts.
The Unreported World programme featured a man named Raymond, who travelled to Kampala, the capital of Uganda, for an intensive course in sign language. Raymond then returned to his village to teach sign language to many deaf men, women and children, including Patrick. The attendees of Raymond’s classes ranged from elderly members of the community who have never spoken to anyone in their life, to young children. Seeing Patrick and Farzana grow into independent, ambitious and happy human beings is heartwarming.
For many though, stories like these do not have a happy ending. Charities like Deaf Child Worldwide need all the support they can get in order to bring millions of people out of a lonely life.