"The only thing deaf people cannot do is hear"
All over the world there are deaf people. International statistics estimate that some 2.5% of the world population has some degree of hearing impairment. Some of these people are born deaf, and some become deaf as a result of childhood illnesses, accidents or other traumas. Some children are deaf because there is an inherited type of deafness in their family, but these make up a very small number of the total of deaf people in the world. There are also many people who begin to lose their hearing as they become old.
It is officially estimated that there are approximately 20,000 deaf children in Tanzania. However comparisons with neighbouring countries puts this figure about four to five times higher, thus it is possible to find over 80,000 deaf children in towns and hidden in the villages. CHAVITA (Tanzanian Deaf Organization) estimates that in the Dodoma region (approx. the size of the Netherlands) alone there are at least 4,000 deaf children of whom only 120 children go to school in Kigwe. The main causes of deafness are malaria, meningitis, ear infections and bad use of medicines. The average yearly income in the Dodoma region is US$160.--. Latest research shows that approximately 70% of hearing children and 5% of deaf children go to school. Average life expectancy at birth is approx. 47 years old. Official unemployment is around 28%, although many self-employed people live below the poverty line. The region has no major industries and relies mainly on agriculture.
Children who are deaf
Deafness in children does not only make it difficult for them to communicate with other people; it also slows down, or even prevents altogether, their learning. A great deal of what children learn comes from what they (over) hear. They hear their family members talking and they learn. They hear people in the community talking and they learn. They hear other children talking and they learn. They hear the radio or television and they learn. All this is in addition to what is said to them. Children who are deaf miss out on all this learning. Even children who are only a little bit deaf miss out; children who are very deaf miss out nearly everything. So they need very special help in order to learn.
This special help will come from schooling; but parents, siblings, family members and
the community are all needed to help as well. It is important that this special help starts as early as possible, so diagnosis is important.
Children who lose their hearing after they have learned to talk, and have been talking long enough to develop their spoken language, need special help to continue their schooling, to continue to develop their language and to preserve their speech. If they have some hearing left a hearing aid, if available, may help.
Children who are born deaf, or lose their hearing before their spoken language is developed, are most likely to be helped by sign language. Lip-reading is also useful but is very difficult.
If deaf children receive a good and suitable education then they are every bit as capable as hearing people. There is the same range of ability. They can be academically successful — doctors, lawyers, lecturers. They can do many jobs — printers, carpenters, farmers, dressmakers. They can and do marry and bring up children. They can learn and understand the appropriate religious faith. They can be responsible citizens and know what is right and what is wrong. But these things only happen if they are given opportunities. While not every deaf person uses sign language, it is fairly generally accepted by the majority that these opportunities are greatly increased by the use of sign language.This sign language needs to be known as well, and used as well, as any spoken language.