Saturday, September 26, 2009

Mennonite group seeks to help deaf community in Nigeria

From the Mennonite Central Committee news:

JOS, Nigeria – Patricia Gyang (pictured), a mother of three, cannot hear an alarm but often rises by 4 a.m. to start her bread dough. She supplies shops around Jos, Nigeria, with pastries and meat pies and bakes and decorates custom-made cakes for all occasions.

As a deaf woman living in a country where the unemployment rate, according to, ranges from 30 to 50 percent, she is fortunate to have her own business.

Being deaf or hard of hearing makes earning a living even more challenging than it is for those who can hear. Discrimination, lack of self-esteem, family problems and poverty leave many deaf adults with little hope for a fulfilling life, according to Athanasius Dapul, a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Nigeria staff person.

One reason Gyang could strengthen her struggling business is because of a $150 loan she obtained in 2006 from Hope for the Deaf, an MCC Nigeria pilot program. Hope for the Deaf is the first program in northern Nigeria to address the economic needs of deaf adults, regardless of religious affiliation.

“When my business was weak,” Gyang said, “that was the time I got the loan and I was able to push it (the business) and make it strong.”

Dapul, who has been on staff with MCC for 26 years, began Hope for the Deaf and leads it with a firm belief in the potential of deaf adults to achieve economic independence. He has designed and led structured life and business skills workshops for deaf adults. The small micro-loan program that helped Gyang also is helping other deaf adults start or improve their own businesses.

Formerly seconded by MCC to teach at Plateau School for the Deaf, Dapul, an ordained pastor, fills the roles of social worker, counselor, teacher and advocate, working to find employment, training and business opportunities for some of the 800 deaf adults living in Jos and Plateau State.

In his MCC assignment, Dapul regularly offers support and problem-solving assistance to people who own small businesses or have apprenticeships. He also helps deaf members establish bank accounts, advocates for the deaf with potential employers, and networks with other government and nonprofit organizations.

Since many deaf Nigerian children, growing up in hearing homes, are treated as less than full human beings, Dapul helps family members understand the children’s unique needs. He works on improving communication and building respect.

Lack of family support often leads to a poor sense of self, depression and insecurity – reasons some deaf people give for not gaining successful employment. Dapul challenges the deaf adults to not let their emotional hurts and physical disability control them.

“All human beings are disabled in some ways,” Dapul said. “The deaf and the hearing need to understand this and refuse to use it as an excuse for not growing up or (to avoid) gaining as much independence as possible.”

With Hope for the Deaf’s efforts, street begging among deaf people in Plateau State is almost nonexistent and people associated with the program actively confront those who are caught begging, according to officials from Plateau Association for the Deaf, a non-governmental organization. Hope for the Deaf has created opportunities for 500 people to attend workshops, 15 to gain apprenticeships or employment, and many others to run their own successful, small businesses. Fifteen members received microloans; 20 more are on the waiting list.

Hope for the Deaf and Plateau Association for the Deaf – which encourages deaf Christians and Muslims to meet together for friendship, support, problem solving and empowerment – collaborate on most of their activities.

MCC created Hope for the Deaf with the intent of merging it with an organization not run by MCC. Dapul and MCC Nigeria believe Plateau Association for the Deaf can be that organization. To reach this goal, Dapul is focusing on building its capacity and its advisory committee to ensure the organization is equipped to run Hope for the Deaf’s programs by 2010.

The positive results of empowering the deaf are unmistakable, regardless who manages the programs.

Gyang and her husband are deaf, but all three of their children hear and communicate in fluent American Sign Language. Recently the children surrounded their mother in their neat living room, clearly proud of her efforts to provide for the family and aware that no disability holds her back.

Six-year old Jemima brought a photo album to show guests and pointed to a photo of Gyang dipping dough into hot fat to make chin-chin (doughnuts).

“Look at my beautiful mother,” Jemima said.