Deaf Travel in Africa: On Domestic Travel When the World Doesn't Know Sign Language


BO, November 20, 2009--Before the Bo Sign Language Training Center opened in Sierra Leone, hearing and speech impaired children from the city's neighborhoods faced abuse and misunderstanding at the hands of the local community.

"Some of them get into problems with the police or on the road they want to travel from one point to the other but they can't talk and using sign to people who do not understand sign language does not make any sense," said Aminata Vandy, District Coordinator for the National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA).

With the help of funds from the National Social Action Project (NSAP), an International Development Association (IDA) funded government program, residents of Bo determined their development needs included a sign-language training center. Using the Community Driven Development approach, they applied for, and received, funding to build a center that would enable them to better communicate with the city's hearing and speech impaired children.

"We trained 63 people from all walks of life," said Vandy, whose agency administers the national project. "Bankers, lawyers, nurses, traffic police. We had radio discussions telling people about the project - telling them you should not abandon your ward or your child because they are disabled."

The program aimed to ensure that at least some community members could communicate with the children if they were in need.

Forty Students and 113 Community Members Trained

NaCSA brought in a team of sign-language specialists from Sierra Leone's capital Freetown. The trainers conducted weekly classes in the center built for the purpose. Since the inception of the sign-language training center, more than 113 members of the Bo District community in Sierra Leone have received sign-language training. Those members are charged with taking their knowledge to other members of their organizations or offices.

The two-room structure also doubles as a school for the hearing and speech impaired. Students receive daily classes that provide the same lessons as standard, state-run schools, but using sign-language.

"I do two subjects by day, morning Math and in the afternoon English," said teacher Abubakar Kamara. "Whether I choose to teach Physical Health Education (PHE) or I choose to teach English Composition (EC) by sign method, Reading by sign method and other subjects like Social Studies -- I have developed a sign method so now I can teach each and every subject."

In addition to standard lessons, the students also are trained in traditional skills such as weaving and tailoring. The school, which started with 16 students, now has 40 pupils, with more arriving almost daily.

"At least every other day, people come with these children--either deaf or mute--to access education," said Vandy.

Lessons are held from 8am to 4pm daily. The school now boasts of several graduates, including one young woman who is a seamstress in Freetown, according to Kamara.

School Feeding Program Could Help Retention Rates

Though funding to the Bo Sign Language Training Center ended with the construction of the school building and training of community members, center leaders say additional resources are needed to expand the school and provide lunches for the children, many of whom come from poverty-affected homes.

"They are telling us now that they are looking for assistance to build more classrooms or even make a boarding school," Vandy said. "Some of [the children] will come to school for some time and they will leave to go and beg in town. If they were in a boarding school with facilities, being fed, then it would keep them in school."

The school's four teachers, who now serve on a volunteer basis, are also seeking salaries. In Sierra Leone, local schools must be recognized by the Ministry of Education in order to have teacher salaries paid by the government. The World Bank is working with the World Food Programme to determine if a school feeding program can be initiated.

The World Bank's Contribution

The World Bank is providing $28,000 to the Bo Sign Language Training Center through the Sierra Leone National Social Action Project (NSAP). The project, administered by Sierra Leone's National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA), takes a community driven development approach and includes two main components including a cash-for-work program, and the community.

NSAP is an IDA-supported project which leverages counterpart funding from the Government of Sierra Leone at the national level and matching community contributions for each of the hundreds of sub-projects it funds across the country. NSAP has also been the biggest project of NaCSA, a government agency which receives support from several other donors including the African Development Bank (ADB), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Government of Germany (KFW).

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