The Only Deaf Boy in the Village

03/14/14

Alhaji and Mohamed sit in the resource library, waiting for their bus back to school. They wait silently, but every once in a while, when one of them has something to say, he signs to the other and smiles.

 
Alhaji and Mohamed, waiting for their bus back to their school
                       Alhaji and Mohamed, waiting for their bus back to their school for the hearing impaired.
 
One year ago, these two deaf boys from remote villages in Sierra Leone had no way to communicate, and no idea there was anyone else in the world like them. They were the only ones with this disability in their village, and no one knew how to help them. 
 
You can imagine the pain and hopelessness Alhaji's mother felt. Ever since Alhaji was struck with a violent fever, she had been powerless to help him. Powerless when she watched him become completely paralyzed from the fever. Powerless when she realized her little boy could no longer hear her voice or speak to her. 
 
Alhaji's mother, here with his uncle, was horrified when she realized her son ha
               Alhaji's mother, here with his uncle, was horrified when she realized her son had lost his hearing. 
 
Fortunately, Alhaji was able to get treatment at a nearby hospital. He recovered from his paralysis, and regained full mobility. But he never got his hearing back. 
 
In the village, no one knew what to do with Alhaji. The little boy who had once talked and played with them now had no way to communicate. Desperate, Alhaji, who attended the Children of the Nations school in the village of Mokpangumba, resorted to the only thing people paid attention to—violence. "He would not be controlled by anyone," his mother says. 
 
It was when he really started having problems at school that someone intervened. Sarah Saunier, COTN's education specialist in Sierra Leone, brought some basic signing books for him, and Mr. Foday, the head teacher at COTN's Mokpangumba school, sprang right into action. "No one showed him how to teach Alhaji, he just started teaching," Sarah remembers. Within an hour, Alhaji had mastered his first few signs. 
 
Thanks to a simple book, Mr. Foday was able to teach Alhaji some basic signs
                               Thanks to a simple book, Mr. Foday was able to teach Alhaji some basic signs.
 
Alhaji's teachers worked one-on-one with him to teach him sign language
Alhaji's teachers at COTN's school worked one-on-one with him to teach him sign language. Here, Mr. Foday helps him understand "stop" by having him pretend to hit a classmate.
 
Alhaji’s attitude completely changed once he had the special attention he needed. But there was no way he was going to make it through school without a more specialized program. 
 
That was when God provided a solution. On a trip to the beach, Mark Drennan, COTN's Sierra Leone liaison, met an Irish nun who runs a school in Sierra Leone for the hearing impaired. Thanks to their sponsors, who are supporting their education, Sarah was able to get both Alhaji and Mohamed enrolled in this school.
 
As they sit waiting for their bus back to school after the holidays, the two boys are completely transformed from the frustrated, isolated children they once were. "If it wasn't for COTN, my son would have become a madman in the village," Alhaji's mother says. "He would have no future." Today—because of people like you—he has a place in his village, a way to communicate and learn, and a hope for his future. 
 
 
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