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Loud silence at Mulago school for deaf children

Mulago school needs support to expand

It was break time. For a primary school, that means 30 minutes of noise and near-lunacy. But from where I stood at Mulago, there was a huge contradiction.

On one side, the pupils of Mulago Private Primary school jumped, kicked, laughed, cried, and rolled in typical childlike abandon, with noise that threatened to bring down heaven.
On the other side, pupils of Mulago School for the Deaf also chased each other around, jumped and argued amongst each other, in silence. The ‘noise’ could be seen in their expressions, wide smiles and spirited sign language.

It was through the gate of the silently noisy pupils that I walked and tried to find the headmistress’ office. I couldn’t ask for help as I was afraid whatever sign language I imagined I knew might be insulting. So I walked around the school premises like a lost sheep till finally I stumbled upon the staffroom.
The teacher I asked for help raised and moved her hands over her head towards the back for the little girl in front of her to guide me. That signal led me to Sr. Brigit Beyononera of the Congregation of the Daughters of Mary.

Mulago School for the Deaf, formerly Parents of the Deaf Children’s Association, is a little known Catholic-founded school located about half a kilometre off Gayaza Road in Kalerwe. The brains behind the school consisted of the spiritual fathers at Mulago; Fr. Hurry Tullemans, Joseph Shio, Peter Mulyango and John Assey.
Like most beginnings, the foundation of the school was humble, located in the God-fearing home of the Ssenabulyas in Kanyanya before moving to Mulago Catholic Parish where classes were conducted under tree shades.

Now with a population of 161 pupils, the school tells of a successful journey that started with two girls: Nalutaaya Dorothy and Nampewo Juliet. It now has both nursery and primary school sections.
Sr. Brigit says the school stopped advertising for admissions because parents who have seen change in their children have gone on to spread the news. The school also gets pupils from other schools with deaf children.

“Before a child is admitted to any deaf school, they are assessed to determine the extent of their problems,” Sr. Brigit said. “For example we handle both deaf and dumb pupils but if a child has more complications, then we refer such a case to another school that handles that particular case. The same happens to those other schools.”

Keeping pupils of the 10-year old school in class is a team of 14 among who are: Two sign language instructors who are also deaf, six qualified primary teachers, plus one nursery teacher. The team is assisted by volunteers, Sr. Brigit said.
“Teachers who apply and qualify to teach here have to have parental love,” Sr. Brigit said, adding that, “They should be tolerant because these kids need special attention and you are bound to face challenges here and there with them.”
The school keeps in close contact with the children’s families and schools, making sure they are making progress in both academics and social wellbeing.

“We follow up on them because we don’t want them to lose heart,” she said.
To ensure parents do their part, regular visits are encouraged. For day pupils, parents have to sign a book at the headmistress’ office at the end of everyday without which no pupil is allowed to leave the school premises.
But the school still faces serious huddles.
“We still need more teachers paid by the government because we do not have enough resources,” says the headmistress. Of the team of 14, only three teachers are on the government payroll.

The school is also in dire need of land for expansion to accommodate the increasing number of students. Many are turned away for lack of space in the one structure that houses both the boys’ and girls’ dormitories.

Before I left, a teacher brought an educational outing proposal for the pupils to Sr. Brigit. Entebbe Airport, Bujagali Falls, Wild Life Education Centre were some of the options. Sr. Brigit answered: “If we get money, these children will go and enjoy themselves.”
Such is the amount of care these children are afforded. Even with so many other pressing needs, it is important to the school that they experience more than their school environs.

echwalu@observer.ug

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