A pursuit born of a need

Saturday, 22 February 2014 14:00 Written by  Carol Nabowa
Namarome during the interview in her office, which was done with the help of an interpreter. Photo by Abubaker Lubowa Namarome during the interview in her office, which was done with the help of an interpreter. Photo by Abubaker Lubowa

 

I am shown into Rehemah Namarome’s office and my heart skips a beat when she smiles to say, “You are welcome.” Still shocked she is speaking, she goes ahead to offer me a seat. I prepared for this interview with the understanding that Namarome could not utter a single word since she is deaf but this is not the case when we meet. Her speech is articulate and normal although she later informs me she cannot pronounce certain words. “I cannot pronounce those words that I did not know how to say when I lost my hearing,” she shares.

Her small desk with no scratches looks like it has not been used for a long time. Seated confidently clad in a black scarf, white and black patterned blouse matched with black skirt and shoes, you could never guess she hearing-impaired. But on a chair opposite the desk sits an interpreter who relays my questions to Namarome through sign language.

Losing her hearing
In 1993, Namarome was 16 years of age in Senior Three at Nkoma Secondary School in Mbale when she developed ahearing loss. “It was my dad who first realized that I was losing the hearing sense. I did not believe him. Later on when I started hearing funny sounds in my ears like buzzing bees, aeroplane sound and traffic noise especially when in a very quiet environment or when I was deep asleep in the night; I realised there was something wrong.” She recalls with nostalgia. Efforts to treat and pray about her ailment were all in vain. “When my dad realised I was developing a hearing loss, he cried. I saw his tears for the first time. That is when I realised my father loved me,” states Namarome.

She, however, did not get a hearing aid until she was in Senior Five because it was very expensive. “When I became deaf, I did not know there was a deaf community. It was while I was looking for a hearing aid that I found out about the Ugandan National Association for the Deaf (UNAD),” she recounts.

“At UNAD, I was welcomed and counselled that being deaf was not being useless,” she says, sm=iling. As though she picks up on my shock at her ability to speak, she explains that there are different levels of hearing loss. “Some people are born deaf while others lose their hearing later in life. Some can speak while others cannot speak,” she explains.

When Namarome completed her Bachelors in Arts degree in Education from Islamic University of Uganda, she returned to UNAD as a volunteer in 2000 and was later appointed programme development officer. “In that position, I realised that although deaf women did not have qualifications, they had the skills to work,” says Namarome in a serious tone. Although she worked and was part of the deaf community, Namarome to this point did not know sign language. “Some women would come sit at the UNAD offices all day and converse because they did not have jobs. It was after they gossiped about me that I learnt the basics of sign language in two weeks,” she shares.

This realisation inspired Namarome to start an organisation that advocated young deaf women to be streamlined in government and civil institutions or programmes. “I shared this idea with some deaf women who loved it. We had our first meeting at UNAD offices on June 22, 2002,” states Namarome. The organisation, which set out as United Young Deaf Women Group (UYDWG) in 2002 later changed its name to United Deaf Women’s Organisation (UDEWO) in 2010 to include deaf women above the youth bracket.

The organisation
Namarome is proud to say United Deaf Women’s Organisation (UDEWO) now covers seven districts in Uganda with the aim of protecting rights of deaf girls and women. “At district level, deaf girls fall prey to rape when walking to school, are married off early and discriminated by their families,” she explains.

Apart from low levels of education, negative attitude from family and the community, the deaf, especially women, are sidelined in society. “One of my worst memory is one of the parents of a deaf girl that had been raped who sided with the offender because he had given them Shs100,000,” she shares. Among the most satisfactory memories for 37-year-old Namarome is organization’s 10th anniversary celebrations on March 8, 2013. “The number of guests was overwhelming,” she says leaning back in her black chair reflectively.
Apart from protecting rights of young girls and women, UDEWO empowers deaf women with income-generating skills.

Towards the end of the interview, I learn that this executive director has a six-year-old son, who she says figured she was deaf at the age of eight or nine months. “When he wanted something, he would hold my hand and lead me to what he wanted to show me. He now knows the basics of sign language but refuses to communicate to me using sign language so I usually read his lips to know what he is saying,” she explains.

Some of the donors that support UDEWO in its work include: Deaf Child Worldwide, Mama Cash, Common Wealth Foundation, and African Women’s fund. “We have made a lot of progress as UDEWO and we are currently collaborating with the police, justice office and the government to improve UDEWO’s advocacy work,” concludes Namarome.

How do you purchase items at the shop?
I can order for items but since I cannot bargain with the shopkeeper, I realise people take advantage and sell things to me at thrice the real price.

What has been the most challenging time so far as a deaf mother?
When my son was learning to speak, it was difficult to know what he was saying since it is difficult to lip-read baby talk. He would repeat something over 10 to 20 times before I could understand what he was saying.

What do you miss about hearing?
I miss being part of conversations. I miss listening to music because it is very educative. Also, I cannot control what kind of music my son listens to.

What don’t you miss about hearing?
I do not miss gossip and hearing insults even from strangers.

Source: The Daily Monitor