Our Lucky Children

Night before last I walked into our open-plan living room/dining room and put dinner on the table for my son and I. Then I heard the story on Channel 4’s Unreported World: they were talking of a school for deaf children. I immediately plucked up my ears, as my lad is deaf, I wondered about what they were featuring. The journalist (I can’t remember who covered the story) said how she was inspired – having learned a few signs in connecting with the students. I wondered what school they were featuring – then she finally said, Uganda, and I thought: ‘oh’! She spoke of how many of the kids had come from abusive backgrounds and homes, just because they were deaf and the only safe place for them where they could communicate at all, was the school. I thought: that wasn’t too dissimilar from what I used to observe at my son’s old special school in Manchester – there were parents who had court orders not to see their kids and they had either been dumped there with no choice but to be inevitably institutionalised. There were of course, parents who supported their children at this school, but the clincher was, they had to take a rigorous exam to win tuition into a secondary school for the deaf. For the primary school which was featured on the programme, I didn’t catch whether parents had to pay for it or not – I walked in in the middle of the story. Some of the children had English names like Peter – some had African names. Many children in Uganda are too poor to go to school at all, so I’m assuming the ones which made it to this school were lucky to have been able to go. The reporter pointed out how, representatives from the school scouted the outer most villages in the countryside, for deaf children who were missing out on school and an education – not to mention the chance for communication through sign language. When my lad got the place at Manchester School for the Deaf (now Seashell Trust) although it was far from where we lived in Wales at the time, it didn’t cost me anything, as it was paid for by the local authority. In fact, the school had a lot of money to provide each student with their own room, towels, bed linen, three healthy meals a day with snacks and some state-of-the-art technology and expertise for helping them reach their full potential. I got the sense that, the school in Uganda thrived on some basic input, but it went a long way for children who would otherwise be stuck at home, not educated and stuck in an environment where no one could communicate with them. The reporter also pointed out how, in many scenarios, children or young people returned home to be beaten and bullied, because they were deaf. It was often thought they were cursed, so they were robustly shut out of society. The situation in the west of course is much more subtle in isolating people. The West is more advanced in that: people that are deaf or hearing impaired will have good healthcare, technologies and strategies to make day-to-day life better, but they’re more likely to be isolated from their communities or taken advantage of. I had to fight tirelessly for two years to get my son into the specialist college where he now goes and thrives. The local authority and some from the local health board are what jointly funds the high costs of his tailored education. So, this moving story of the school for deaf children and young people in Uganda; the bitter-sweet story of, whether or not they were able to go onto further their education, based on an exam and fortunate tuition (which would more than likely come from generous donations) just made me cry. I thought of the children who hadn’t been found or the parents who couldn’t afford to send their kids to school in Uganda’s poor villages. I thought of how, despite all the fight, my son has actually been lucky, loved and supported. Of course we don’t know what the future holds, as he’s on the cusp of adulthood and uncharted waters, but his opportunities are far better than if he was in Uganda. So this is why, when I hear one of those wining toddlers in the shops in town: “mummy I want…” – it really gets on my nerves. You want, you want, you want, child; but if you only knew how much you already have, have, have…

Unreported World is currently available to view on http://www.channel4.com/programmes/unreported-world

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