Community all ears to deaf initiative

Joel and Ceilidh Mwesigwa have started up Boanerges Deaf Initiative which spreads awareness for deafness equality in Uganda. Photo: Inga Williams / The Satellite
Joel and Ceilidh Mwesigwa have started up Boanerges Deaf Initiative which spreads awareness for deafness equality in Uganda. Photo: Inga Williams / The Satellite Inga Williams

WHEN your brother is beaten to death, it's difficult to find the positive.

It's even more difficult when the man's only crime was to be deaf.

For Ugandan Joel Mwesigwa, the tragic incident changed his life forever.

Since then he has devoted himself to helping deaf people in his country.

"Deaf people in Uganda are called 'kasiru', meaning 'stupid' or 'foolish'," Mr Mwesigwa said. "Deaf children are seen as evil or cursed.

"Most parents feel ashamed to have a deaf child and so the child suffers because their parents and communities reject them.

"They can be locked in a cage, starved, tied to a tree or brutally abused."

His brother, who became deaf in his early teens and had difficulty communicating, had worked as a courier in Uganda.

Police stopped him one day, suspecting him of carrying stolen goods. He could not answer their questions, and was beaten to death.

Joel Mwesigwa and his family found him and buried him at their family burial site.

The incident prompted Mr Mwesigwa to start the Boanerges Deaf Initiative, and he shared his story with community groups including Kiwanis in south-west Brisbane during a recent visit to the area.

He was joined by his wife, former Rosewood resident Ceilidh Mwesigwa - a teacher who herself was born profoundly deaf.

His not-for-profit organisation was established in 2006, to provide the best services and education possible for deaf children in Uganda and change community attitudes towards deafness.

Starting the initiative with nothing, Mr Mwesigwa began teaching deaf children under a tree in a friend's compound.

"We later moved to an abandoned building, with no windows and missing walls and operated the school out of there," he said.

It was at that time, Mrs Mwesigwa first visited the school and met her future husband during her initial trip to Uganda in 2010.

As a deaf person, the 22-year-old said she had always received overwhelming support from her family, friends and the community.

"So it was a shock to see deaf children shunned by their families and treated so badly when I first arrived in Uganda," she said.

Mrs Mwesigwa said it was the support from her own community that had inspired her to travel to Uganda and help at the school.

"I only learnt to speak five years ago, after the community raised $30,000 for me to get a cochlear implant," she said.

"It was so much given to one deaf person and I knew there were a lot more kids like me out there that needed help.

"So after that moment, I decided that I wanted to teach and help deaf children."

The organisation currently looks after 30 children at their school in central Uganda and 90 children at another facility in northern Uganda.

Still woefully underfunded, Mr Mwesigwa said the project was slowly achieving its aim of putting value on deaf people in the country.

"When parents witness the change in their children, they do away with their negative attitude," he said.

"And it particularly helps change people's mentality when they see white, deaf people like Ceilidh in their community.

Mr Mwesigwa said his dream was to build an institution where deaf children in Uganda could become self reliant.

"And create a community with no barriers, like here in Australia, where deaf people can freely associate with other hearing people."

For more information or to donate to the Boanerges Deaf Initiative, visit www.boanergesdeafinitiative.org.

Topics:  deaf, deaf awareness, hearing impaired, uganda



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