UPDATE FROM DEAF PROJECT IN ETHIOPIA.
Many of you will know from previous updates, that a group of Irish Deaf
people, Mark Mc Caffrey, Denise Dowling, Noeleen Cunningham and Susan O’
Callaghan, along with two interpreters from Deaf families Veronica White and
Willie White, along with Fr. Stephen Monaghan from the Vincentians flew out
to Ambo in Ethiopia. The aim of the trip was to work with the Deaf Community
in Ambo and assist them in their efforts to establish a Deaf Centre there.
This work is being done in conjunction with the Ambo Vincentian Lay
When we arrived into Addis Ababa, we drove straight to Ambo- a drive of just
over 2 hours. The first thing that struck us was the number of people
walking along the roadside and the amount of animals too, goats, cows,
donkeys and ox’s. The scenery was absolutely amazing and very lush. Dotted
along the route were traditional huts and shacks and small towns made up of
mainly shacks that sold every product imaginable.
When we arrived in Ambo, the Deaf community waved Ethiopian and Irish flags
and welcomed us with open hearts. We all embraced and shook hands in a
traditional Ethiopian manner. We were all presented with small wild flowers.
Later we were invited to an Ethiopian coffee ceremony, which is considered
to be a great honour. This was our first opportunity to get to know the
local Deaf, learn about their traditions, culture and sign language. This
was also a way for us to give a background on Irish culture; the Deaf
community in Ireland and of course our sign language too. We also had a
chance to learn about Ethiopian dance and we taught them the Siege of Ennis
Over the next few days, we arranged a number of full day workshops and were
amazed by the turn out. Many people lived nearby in Ambo but many people
walked for hours from rural areas. Their enthusiasm and eagerness to learn
and share was heart warming.
The workshops were a chance for them to inform us of issues faced by the
local community. We had women, men, children, elderly and Deaf with
The issues that impact on the community are widespread and include access to
shelter, food and clean water, access to education especially for rural
Deaf, access to medical services, access to Government services, access to
training and employment, access to information and services on HIV/ AIDS,
and how to generate income when there is no Government welfare support.
Poverty is widespread in the area and this is a major factor for the Deaf
Education is a huge issue. Many Deaf people do not access formal education
and may be stopped from going to school by family members due to the stigma
of deafness. Many schools have a uniform policy. For poorer families, the
cost of a uniform prevents many from going to school. For the lucky ones in
Ambo there is a mainstream hearing school with a special needs class. This
class has one hearing teacher and one Deaf teacher- both are fluent sign
language users. However, these teachers only work in Grade 1 to Grade 4.
Thereafter, students in Grade 5 up to Grade 10 have no sign language access
and no interpreters. They are isolated in these classrooms and cannot access
the education provided there. As a result, many Deaf people fail at this
stage and cannot get enough points to enter university. Many students drop
out at this stage. If they carry on, the only option is to go onto
vocational training. Again, there are no qualified teachers of the Deaf or
interpreters here. Students only get through this system if teaching is done
through visual methods or through hands-on practical instruction.
After education, there is limited employment opportunities. The Government
provides no Social Welfare and as a result poverty is a huge issue for
people. Many towns have markets and this is a chance to sell home made
products. If Deaf people have skills in hair braiding, carpentry, weaving,
food preparation and tailoring- this may be their only way to generate
income. However, as the value of the local currency (the Birr) is so low, it
’s very difficult to earn enough money to look after yourself and your
Even for professionals, it is challenging. We worked with an interpreter who
is based in Addis Ababa- he does alot of work in a university and earns the
equivalent of 6.50 euro per week, just over one euro per day. He would
consider this a great wage.
There are no interpreters based in Ambo, which makes it impossible for Deaf
people to access mainstream services. One of the teachers of the Deaf, Mr.
Sisay is the only person that works with Deaf people outside of school
services. He has a huge workload ranging from teaching, to advocacy, and to
supporting the huge range of issues local and rural Deaf face.
On a positive note- in the past year the Finnish Association of the Deaf
have set up a Deaf Women’s Empowerment and HIV/AIDS Awareness project in
Ambo. This has made a huge difference to Deaf people in Ambo as information
is provided by a local Deaf woman. It is critical the information on
HIV/AIDS is made accessible to Deaf people on a long-term basis.
Without a local Deaf Centre, the challenges facing the community are
enormous. On our last day, we were lucky to meet with the local Lord Mayor
and he is very supportive of our project. We looked at a plot of land and
the Mayor is now working on signing the land over to us. Once land has been
obtained, Fr. Monaghan and the Vincentians hope to apply for overseas aid.
If this is successful, a Deaf Centre could be built within 18months to 2
years. The Centre would have an education room; a training room and a 3rd
room for get togethers, food preparation, skills development etc. This would
be a major milestone and a major achievement for the Deaf community.
While we were in Ambo, we had the privilege of visiting Deaf people in their
homes. This was a huge honour for us all. Again, we were welcome with open
arms. The standard of accommodation is very low in Ambo and in the long
term, the Deaf project may also look at residential needs of the community.
We also got the chance to visit a village, which was built by the
Vincentians for people with leprosy. While we did not meet any Deaf people
with this condition, this could be an issue for those living in more rural
areas. The Centre will enable people access better education, training and
employment. It would also offer better access to health services and this
could be a life-saving development for many Deaf people in Ambo.
For everyone that supported us with this trip, we would like to say a huge
thank you. To Fr. Stephen Monaghan, the Vincentians in Ireland and Ambo and
to the Irish team who flew to Ambo- a huge thank you for all your support.
To the Deaf community in Ambo- it was a great honour and privilege to work
with you all. Fingers crossed, we will be back in a few years to officially
open a Deaf Centre with you all.
OUR CONTACT DETAILS:
Kerry Deaf Resource Centre
4 Gas Tce, Tralee
Mobile (text): 087 633 4687
Fax: 066 712 0386
Tel: 066 712 0399