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Learning Sign Language to Overcome Loneliness and Alienation

bY: Sabrina Solomon

The National Association of the Deaf and Mute is one of the most important social organizations in Eritrea. Specially devoted to those with hearing impairment, it aims to raise awareness, offer support, and promote the rights of the deaf. Since its founding in 1998, the organization has sought to extend support to the hearing impaired disabled in order to help them improve their lives. Importantly, it has also achieved a lot in reshaping the attitudes and perceptions of society towards the deaf.

In our country, even though modern sign language education began in 1955, the number of the deaf that has received opportunities to attend has traditionally been quite limited. Historically, it was common to see many people with hearing challenges wanting to enroll in education programs but unable to as a result of various obstacles. Despite some progress, the number of schools for the deaf and mute in our country can still be improved.

These days, in addition to supporting the school of the deaf, the National Association of the Deaf and Mute has been helping to train translators and educators. These activities can help the deaf interact and engage effectively with the community, while also supporting equality and creating job opportunities.

The Association, which has about 4000 members, has excelled in its activities over the years to tackle the challenges faced by the deaf and the mute. As a result of its hard work, the consciousness of our people is much better now. The deaf and mute citizens are now more confident and have been building up their self-esteem. By avoiding dependency, they can work harder towards achieving their dreams. There are many proud deaf people in our country who are described as perfect examples of self-made success and hard work.

One of the important areas of the Association is promoting sign language. Sign language is an essential language that everyone can learn. Most of the time though, many societies consider being deaf a serious disability. This is because they lack the required knowledge to understand the deaf and their personalities that usually leads to a sense of desolation and alienation. What society needs to fathom is that a deaf person’s only disadvantage is their inability to hear, but nothing more. They can work, produce, contribute, and keep up with all social and livelihood aspects just like any other person. They can do whatever a person without hearing impairment can do.

In our society, communication between a deaf and a normal person is seen as the major obstacle, even though, in reality, it can easily be solved. If people are willing, conscious, and interested, acquiring sign language can be easy. To overcome the problem of desolation, therefore, those who can hear should consider learning sign language. Since the problem of hearing is a barrier for the deaf, those who can hear can help to bridge the gap.

Notably, a lot of research has shown that learning sign language is not very difficult. Furthermore, there are a plethora of learning tools that can support those who wish to learn.

Following a six-month-long training program on sign language, 15 individuals, most from the Ministry of Health, graduated on 31st March 2021. The course was offered in Keren, through the support of the National Association of the Deaf and Mute and the collaboration of several partners.

Speaking at the graduation event, the Governor of the Anseba region, Ambassador Abdella Mussa, stated, “Since we have seen many citizens with difficult disabilities overcoming their challenges and working hard, our country is beginning to positively shift its attitudes and perceptions towards the deaf. This course and its outcomes are enormously important; however, we need to keep working and progress more. As for us, since we are their families, we have planned to express our love towards them by visiting their offices and houses monthly and weekly. Sign language is also important for the service providers and managers and so should be learned. On top of that, since our ability of hearing starts to slow with age, learning sign language is important and can help us all in the future.” He also added that the administrative zone is ready to cooperate and the Association is expanding the program.

The Chairman of the National Association of the Deaf and Mute, Mr. Weldemichael Siele, delivered a message stating, “These programs are helping to provide critical support to the hearing impaired in their everyday lives. Since sign language was traditionally only offered in specialized schools for the deaf, the result wasn’t as impressive. But now these various initiatives and activities are breaking down the old norms and leading to positive results.”

In her own speech during the event, the branch of Anseba region’s chairwoman, Ms. Asmeret Berhe, thanked the Ministry of Health, the municipality of Keren, and all those who participated in the course. She also noted how many of the past graduates of the program are achieving considerable success and have secured employment opportunities in various sectors, including health, education, finance, and others.

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