Bakar Ali: What it means to be Deaf in Somalia
Published: Mar 29th, 2013
Today, there are millions of deaf people in developing countries that do not have access to education. In Somalia, deaf children are left neglected. They do not go to school. How would a deaf child feel when his siblings are going to school but he is left playing on the ground? Lonely. This is the real experience of deaf children in Somalia.
Let me share with you some information about the deaf in Somalia. I grew up in the Somali capital – Mogadishu – and spent whole my life there until a few years ago. While I lived in Somalia, I was not exposed to the deaf culture. This is because I grew up as hearing until I was in the 9th grade. I lost my hearing suddenly. Like many deaf in Africa, my hearing loss was caused by Malaria. The medicine that the doctors used to cure me affected my hearing.
Joining a new Community
After I became deaf, my life took a new path. As I said, I was in high school but when I became deaf, things became bitter; I could no longer compete with my hearing peers – I joined a new community, which is called “the Deaf community”. This is a community that has long been neglected in Somalia. This is a community that has long been oppressed in Somalia, which I never knew before becoming deaf myself. There has never been a school for the deaf in Somalia. Most deaf people who grew up in Somalia do not know how to write or read.
So there I was, a recently deafened teenager, struggling with my new life and my new identity, “Dhagool” (Deaf). Somali people have a habit of naming a person based on their looks or state of being, and I got called “Dhagool”, which means deaf. In western countries, it is totally unacceptable for someone to be addressed as “half legged, half handed, disabled, blind, deaf” etc. But in Somalia, it is common. People have no respect for disabled people. In addition to these labels, deaf also are categorized as mentally unstable. They are made fun of and mocked.
Somalia has been without a central government since 1991, due to the civil war, and all public services have collapsed. The Somali National Association for the Deaf (SONAD), have been advocating for the education of deaf children. Unfortunately, there are not any public education services in Somalia which makes their task very difficult. The governments that have come to power since the start of the civil war have never been able to function well. Because of this, there is no government office that can provide services for the deaf.
Most schools in Somalia are privately owned and managed locally or by international NGO’s. They are run by people who mostly are profit oriented rather than goal oriented. While thousands of schools that function well have been opened in Somalia during the past decades, there have not been any successful schools for the deaf. The few schools were not able to reach their goals; most notable was Borama School for the deaf located in the self-independent state, Somaliland.
Overcoming the Obstacles
In Mogadishu, where the highest numbers of deaf people in Somalia live, the situation is not good. Deaf are unable to find jobs and necessary services. Recently, Mogadishu imposed a new policy that banned deaf people from driving in Mogadishu. A deaf man was arrested by Mogadishu police after he tried to drive a public bus. When I was in Mogadishu last month, I tried to talk with the Somali government about this, but it did not work. During my interview on Somali National TV, I argued that the system is unfair and
unacceptable. As a deaf student in America, I have the freedom to drive my car wherever I want; but in Somalia I could not. This is one of the obstacles that deaf people in Somalia face.
Things have been improving a little bit these days. Recently, the Somali National Association for the Deaf (SONAD) in partnership with Deaf Unity UK, implemented a training program for deaf leaders. About 12 local deaf leaders were trained in Mogadishu in the areas of leadership and capacity building. There are a few deaf schools in Somalia, but with limited resources and teachers. Two of the most important things that the deaf in Somalia need today are trained teachers and education.
Bakar Ali is the President of SONAD (the Somalia National Association for the Deaf), an organisation with the aim of improving the life and culture of Deaf children and people in Somalia. He is currently studying Urban and international studies with minor political science at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in New York. Bakar is the recipient of Bruce R. James ’64 Distinguished Public Service Award at RIT. Deaf Unity and SONAD are working together to support and encourage Somali Deaf leaders so that they can encourage and support Deaf people and children in Somalia. They look towards a future where Deaf people in Somalia are included in all aspects of life.
Previous article/interview: Lizzie Ward: My Journey as a Deaf Learner
Next article/interview: Ishtiaq Hussain: My Experience as a Deaf Learner