It was Amy’s idea to visit the local Deaf school. She was taking a box of notebooks, pencils, chalk and other essentials that were much needed (it’s incredible how many different things this woman does) and asked me to come and meet the headmaster and see the school for myself. In Tanzania, Leila is incredibly lucky to have the support that she does and this visit would show realistically what a Deaf child in Mwanza can expect.
It was incredibly moving.
It is a community school that consists of both hearing and deaf children – the 72 deaf children that attend are taught separately and often altogether in one classroom. They are severely understaffed and of the teachers that we saw, none of them appeared to know Tanzanian sign language and used a more basic type of sign/gesture. The children are allowed to start the school at the age of 6 or 7 – prior to this there is no pre-school for Deaf children. The vast majority of them come from families and communities who don’t sign and think that their inability to talk is because they are stupid, so a lot of these children start school with no one having communicated with them for 7 years. School therefore for them is such an exciting place as they can spend time with other Deaf children, sometimes for the first time.
But you should see it – there are absolutely no resources. The walls are bare and dirty and grey. There is nothing visual to aid teaching or inspire learning, nothing at all. We were advised that the children follow the same curriculum as the hearing school but the lesson written on the blackboard for the whole day was 6 letters – M-R – and numbers 11-20 to copy down rote into an exercise book. It also transpired that that was yesterday’s lesson and the day I visited the children didn’t have a pencil, there was no chalk and also no teacher. In one classroom of 6-10 year olds it was 2 pupils to a chair and looking through the one exercise book they are given there was only 2 pages of work since they started back in September.
These are not stupid children – in the small time I spent with them they were so incredibly excited to have two wazungus who can sign in the classroom with them and desperately wanted our attention and to try and communicate, despite the difference in the languages. They thought my own signs for what was written on the board hilarious and clambered over each other to teach me the correct way to sign the alphabet and numbers. All of them were thrilled with the new pencils and exercise book and one by one came round to give Amy a small bow.
How incredibly boring, how frustrating, how soul-destroying to want to learn and not be given the means to, to not have teachers who can sign to an appropriate level. Whilst I understand that the school is under-funded, it seemed more evidence of the Tanzanian attitude to a Deaf or disabled life as worthless.
We asked about teaching times and the possibility of volunteering, but the class I was in left at 10am everyday as the school felt sorry for them that they wont have eaten for that time and send them home (read into that what you will). I was disappointed. This was the class I wanted to work with, the 6-10 year olds, showing them colours and numbers and animals and geography and games…
And so an idea was born. I would provide extra-curricular lessons after 10, covering a variety of topics including the ones on their curriculum. The problem of the food was solved – every week I will provide bananas or mandazi (similar to doughnuts) and chai for the children that stay. This will also give me an opportunity to support a local market with my weekly snack order. On one of the main roads in town there are a number of sellers who I can buy posters of animals, body parts, the world map, numbers and everything else imaginable to use as visual aids for learning. Amy also has a copy of the Tanzanian sign language dictionary so we can photocopy this and get them to take it home to their parents to practise signing with (there’s a spin-off project involving visiting the villages and working with the parents on deaf awareness and starting to sign but let’s not get ahead of ourselves). I can purchase enough exercise books so they can have one for every subject, making it much easier to look back over what they’ve done. Hell I’m even thinking of contacting Berol and seeing if I can get some paints that are safe for children donated so we can do some art work.
It’s not a big project – I’ll have 2 hours every Wednesday for the after-school activities and some children and parents may disagree but I am still very excited about it.
First steps are to create some lesson ideas and have a look at what I need and can realistically afford. Forever Angels have very kindly offered to help out but I’d also like to raise my own money for this. It’s really not going to need a lot I’m also very lucky to be working with Leila as I’ll be pinching ideas of what has worked with her and what she has enjoyed and using those. Amy is also a teacher and so has offered her brain for picking and running things by (oh I know, it’s sickening how great she is isn’t it?).
Some concerns that have been voiced are that any resources I purchase will be considered wasted on the Deaf children and given to the hearing school, so I’m going to have to put things up and take them down every time or do a bit of a Miss Honey from Matilda (apologies if you don’t get the reference). Also, it might not work – the children might not want to stay, or the parents might disagree, or they might think the activities are boring…
But I am feeling so inspired.
The photos were kindly lent to me by Forever Angles for this blog post. Expect some of my own very soon