She hears and speaks for the deaf

Saturday, 26 January 2013 00:00 Written by  Pamela Mawanda
Sarah Ojirot(L) with one of the ladies she interpretes for as she cannot hear. With this job, Ojirot finds she has to schedule her life around the needs of her clients. Photos by Faiswal Kasirye Sarah Ojirot(L) with one of the ladies she interpretes for as she cannot hear. With this job, Ojirot finds she has to schedule her life around the needs of her clients. Photos by Faiswal Kasirye

Calmly, Sarah Ojirot speaks but not with her mouth. In fact, what she says, you have to be trained to “hear” because she speaks with her arms. Although her lips gesticulate too, they do not emit any sound. It is a soundless language that her target audience, the deaf, she speaks to and for, hear. Ojirot works as an interpreter for the deaf using sign language.

Nothing of what she says can be heard but only a special group of people can understand what she is saying. Confidently without even looking at her audience but at a young woman gesturing like her, she speaks. To an English scholar, Ojirot would be termed as having bad reading habits, yet to this deaf lady, she is her voice.

Giving life up for those who need her
Ojirot is not deaf or dumb herself. When she talks however, I notice that her hands involuntarily continue to gesture and illustrate. It is as though her hands were joined to her mouth, they are one and she cannot use one without the other. When I first ask her if we can meet for a chat, she warmly tells me that she is not sure. It would depend on her work schedule. When I thought about her reply, I realised thatOjirot’s life does not belong to her but to the deaf people she signs for, enabling them to communicate with those that do not understand sign language.

Surprising turn of events
Born in Katakwi District, it had never dawned on Ojirot that she would one day be an interpreter and earn a living from it. She always wanted to do something related to business and money. To her, signing is her calling from God. And just like any calling, they are revealed to us in the most unsual ways.

“As I was teaching in my class, a young lady, Christine Namajja, came and stood by my window seal. All my encouragement for her to enter was futile. When I got nearer to her, I realised that she could not hear what I was saying. I used gestures and told her to enter my class. From then on, my life has never been the same again.”

Her interest was then spiked and she was permanently hooked on signing. When Unad asked Ojirot to go train and learn how to sign, she willingly put her dreams on hold and went to learn how to sign. To her, signing is not just gestures; it is a language just like French or English. It is something that she, as a girl of 15, was able to do innocently since she went to school with an annex for deaf students. However, after going for classes and several seminars, it is what connects her to a community that she has grown to love and has become a part of.

A crowded schedule
Depending on how many people she has to interpret for, Ojirot’s schedule varies on a daily basis. While her work will sometimes takes her away from home, at times it keeps her right at home.

“I have a big family. It is more of an extended family and like can be expected, a lot of time is needed to be spent with the children. At times, my day starts as early as 8am while sometimes it may start at 1pm. Everything I do, I plan around my work,” she lets on.

When Ojirot is not busy working, she loves reading Christian literature and signing. However, sometimes she does not even get time to cater for her other interests even over the weekends. Some weekends end up like any other week day, she ends up working. This she does not view as bothersome or tedious- to her, it is her work. Her responsibility. Her passion. She goes where her clients need her to be as long as it is a decent hour.

Constantly working
When asked whether she takes her work home, Ojirot smiles coyly. “It is hard not to. I am so used to talking with my hands that my family has to remind me on a daily basis that I should let my mouth do the talking and not my hands since they are capable of hearing.” She never regrets having learnt how to sign. Today, it is more than just a way to pay her bills, it is her livelyhood. It is among the things that bring a smile to her face

“Some people now no longer refer to the people I sign for as deaf but as my people. They keep on asking me where my people are. It is annoying I have to say but every time it happens the book of Ruth comes to mind and I tell them; my people are your people.” The people around her are more than clients. They are her friends. Her family of sorts. They have made her what she is.

Perks of her trade
The service that she offers them has taken her across the world to places like the UK, Argentina, South Africa that she would not have probably otherwise seen if not on account of her job. Regarding her job as her calling from God, Ojirot tries to make sure that the people she loves are not left helpless while in the house of God. She has lobbied interpreters for the deaf in churches like St. Andrews and St. Peters (C.O.U) in Soroti.

Following her father’s philosophy of unity that “every mother produced every child”, Ojirot, who grew up in a home with more than fifty siblings, believes that everyone is special and equal. Her mindset has made her avail herself to all persons with disabilities. To her, they are not a nuisance as some people in society would view them but are “wonderfully and fearfully made”.

Developing her skill
Her ability as an interpreter has been built by her working with the Human Rights and Disability projects, Nudipu, Unad and various seminars. To Ojirot, the work she has done has not just been a job but a learning experience that has helped her learn how to deal, lobby and advocate for the rights of people with disabilities.

Despite challenges, she happily goes on with her work. She is determined to do what God wants her to do and nothing or anyone will stop her from carrying out her Christian duty.


Source: The Daily Monitor