I love these pictures of Leila – you can get a real sense of who she is I think. Massive show-off (check out the posing), super confident, funny, beautiful, little bit naughty sometimes. She’s also big into dressing up.

Often when I work with Leila people ask the usual questions; can she be ‘cured’ (that’s a whole debate on cochlear implants that I’m not going to start on this blog. She doesn’t have one and my personal view is that she doesn’t need one); does she know she is deaf (not at the moment. Amy will try to help her understanding by signing to her that her ears are ‘broken’, which always gets a resounding “no, they’re fine” and a double thumbs up. Obviously we’ll be helping her to come to understand that she’s deaf but I think it speaks volumes about how little it’s affecting her life at the moment, even though she lives in a predominantly hearing environment); can she understand you (weird one, but then I forget what it’s like to have no knowledge of the deaf community. A lack of vocalised response does not mean she doesn’t understand: the girl is smart).

As a freelancer I worked with deaf adults and teenagers mainly and I’ll admit I was nervous about teaching someone little, but she makes it so easy. Every new sign she learns she’ll remember and then try it out later in her own conversations with you. A lot of the learning is done just through everyday happenings: an eagle crash landed in the garden and there followed a big old conversation about the bird being ill and how it couldn’t go to hospital like Granval’s friend and how it was probably going to die and where its parents were and why we shouldn’t touch it and we needed to keep the cat and dogs away from it and how it wasn’t nice to tease it and very vigorous bashing signs (hers not mine) for the possible demise of the bird at the hands of the Askari… Of course this took a while but later I witnessed her retelling the whole story with her new signs to her Mum. I’m in awe with how quickly she picks things up.

Obviously I’m not doing this all by myself – her whole family signs with her and part of my role is to teach them signs and ways of communication. I’ve baked cakes together with Leila and her brothers and sisters where no one was allowed to use their voice or write anything down and everyone had their own task so needed to communicate with someone else to get the job done. If you knew the sign you used it or found another way to communicate. The idea was to create an understanding of how difficult and frustrating it can be if you can’t communicate and understand each other clearly (a feeling that Leila may  have when hanging out with her siblings), to think of other ways to communicate with Leila that don’t require a vast knowledge of BSL, and also just to have fun. She adores her brothers and sisters and a day pulling funny faces, drawing pictures in the air and covering ourselves with icing sugar (Is that flour? Can I taste it? Mmmh, can I have some more? Can I eat it with a spoon? Can I put it in your hair?), really seemed to work.

Isamilo – where you can learn, play…and dodge fruit thrown by monkeys

We go to school together (there’s a story about my perceived over-excitement and subsequent signing of the fact they have monkeys in the playground – apparently it’s not a big deal here, even to a 4-year old – but I’ll save that for another time…or it’s probably on youtube) and in September she starts reception so we’re currently doing colours and emotions and the books The Rainbow Fish and Brown Bear. She’s the only deaf child in her school, in fact I think she’s their first, but the school are keen to learn of ways of working with her and the end of my first two weeks saw me at the front of assembly, signing with 20-30 other children the song We Are the Champions by Queen, supported by a parent with a very impressive voice and set of guitar-playing skills.

And Leila is lucky – she goes to a good school, has a family who love and support her and is not perceived to be nor does she perceive herself to be disabled. In Tanzanian culture, deafness is perceived as a disability and therefore treated as a burden. I have yet to visit the local deaf school but already know it by reputation – no resources, teachers who can’t sign, children beaten for being ‘stupid’. There is a Tanzanian sign-language and I’m interested to see if there’s a community attached or if people are hidden away. To that end I’m starting Tanzanian sign-language classes next week and I’m interested to see how different it is.

So expect more on Leila – I’m looking forward to next school year and spending time with her. Sure, sometimes she’s annoyed with me (this largely consists of her closing her eyes so she can’t see me signing, generally when I’m signing the word no) but I’m hoping that we’re becoming friends as her world is a pretty weird and wonderful one and I’m enjoying being part of it.


2 thoughts on “Leila

  1. She sounds a hoot hun and I do love those pictures. I’m not going to debate the ‘curing deafness’ issue either like all aspects of diversity it’s about freedom of choice and equity of opportunity. From reading, deafness in Tanzania is mostly a result of poor infant/early childhood diseases which are untreated…..I guess other readers should take note of your previous blog about the appalling conditions in their hospital you visited to understand how something like that can actually happen.

    Is the school called Buguruni School For the Deaf? If it is it is sad to hear the reputation of a school who’s motto is ‘Education & Love is Our Right’

    Thinking how you could link in NDCS – check this out http://www.deafchildworldwide.info/where_we_work/east_africa/tanzania.html

    There also seems to be the ‘Tanzania Society for the Deaf’ that set up and own the school so there is community links. I’ve found this out too…..Tanzanear is a UK charity dedicated to helping deaf people in Tanzania lead richer and more fulfilling lives. They currently do this by working with two organisations: Buguruni School for the Deaf, a primary school, and UMIVITA, a small NGO, run by young deaf adults, which provides advocacy and support services to deaf people in Dar es Salaam. We also work closely with the Tanzania Society for the Deaf, the NGO which owns Buguruni School. Another charity (UK based again is here: http://www.sound-seekers.org.uk/)

    Abuse stories are not uncommon sadly, but it’s always a concern that people click on links like this and donate not knowing the teachers could be doing more harm than good. I’m not sure of your geography there which I must look up but this is a good start on your mission to connect…..imagine Leila meeting a deaf mentor or something. Will keep reading anyway sweety and chat again soon.


  2. Also…….seven or so Tanzanian sign languages (Swahili Lugha ya Alama or Lugha ya Bubu) were developed independently among deaf students in separate Tanzanian schools for the Deaf starting in 1963, though use of several is forbidden by their schools. In 1984, a standardized Tanzanian Sign Language was proposed by the Tanzania Association for the Deaf, using common or similar signs where these exist in the schools which allowed research, but it has not been officially implemented, and there remains little influence between the languages. Dxx

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