Speech Therapy at Ewafe

Risa is a speech therapist who is volunteering with us for a few weeks. She has been working closely with our Ewafe project children, and in particular supporting our newest Ewafe child who is deaf. Risa has written our latest blog post to tell us about her experiences:

“There are so many organizations within Uganda (and other countries in developing nations, and I have had the opportunity to learn first hand about one incredible organization that is made up of some hard working, caring and creative people who are making a difference here in Kampala!  

The beginning: Two weeks ago I was taken by a friend to see a club (Actually, we visited one of its 17 project centers in the slums of Kampala) that supports children who live in some of the poorest sections of Kampala!  Oh my gosh!!  ………   Kids Club Kampala is a non profit organization that was founded by the 2 directors (from the UK) and the executive director (from Uganda)of the organization.  Their website states that, “Kids Club Kampala aims to bring hope and love to vulnerable children and to transform poor communities in Uganda.  The organization works to empower children and women from disadvantaged communities, bringing sustainable changes through various development projects and supporting their basic needs.”

Let me tell you what I saw:  We arrived in one small community within Kampala, that had been demolished by the landowners the day before.  All the homes (shacks) had been leveled by the people who owned the land as they wanted to build something else on it.  Yes, the families had been living on the land for a long time and it was not theirs.  Two days before these people’s homes were destroyed, they were told to clear out.  Where do they go? How do they pack their minimal belongings in 2 days?  How do they leave their homes, community and their support network?

But there above the flattened community was a church, made of bamboo sticks lashed together to form 4 walls and a tin roof.  There were plastic outdoor chairs, a dirt floor and young people playing games.  Not games with hoops, balls, nets, but games that used empty plastic bottles, a shoe, water.  These children (from very young toddlers to teenagers) were led by local volunteers, trained by Kids Club Kampala!  Everyone was laughing and if not playing the game, were cheering their friends on.  Slowly other people arrived, adults, and other children.  With the simplest of things, these people were enjoying themselves even though many of them had no home and minimal amount of belongings.  We stayed for an hour and then headed home.

Now that I’ve shared the introduction with you, let me tell you the story.  After my experience I emailed Corrie, one of the directors, and shared with her some of my reflections from that Saturday.  I told her that I was going to be in Kampala for several weeks and if there was any way they could use my skills as a speech therapist that I would be happy to talk with her about it.  She responded and stated that KCK has a project called Ewafe Project meaning “Where we belong” in Luganda,  which provides support to children who have been  abandoned in Kampala’s slums.  Recently 3 siblings arrived at Ewafe House, who had been abandoned by their family.  One of the children, the youngest a six year old boy, is deaf and had never received any schooling, nor training in sign language.  Corrie asked me if I’d be willing to help the staff prepare the boy for eventually going to a school for the deaf.  I was very excited about this possibility.  Later after saying, “yes” I took some time to think about this from a less ego centric place.  I realized that I was not going to change the world, I was not going to be an Annie Sullivan (Helen Keller’s first teacher), but, I did have this opportunity to share some of my knowledge with people who were intimately involved in supporting children in Kampala.
A few days after agreeing to do this I met with Sam (Executive Director), Corrie and Beatrice (social worker).  They shared with me the goals and philosophy of KCK as well as some background information about the boy who is deaf (let’s call him Jonathan, since KCK prefers us not to you the children’s name to protect their safety and privacy).  They had just a very minimal of information.  On Monday morning I arrived at KCK office and off we went, traveling about an hour north of Kampala to get to Ewafe Project.  The house is relatively newly built with two bedrooms (girls and boys dormitory rooms).  In the bedrooms were bunkbeds with mosquito netting, and hand knit blankets.  The 3 siblings were all in one room because they had recently arrived and none of the other children were there, the rest of the children were at school, boarding school).  There was a recreation room which will eventually be used for the children to listen to music, read books, play games or perhaps get some tutoring.  There was an office room with a desk, a couple of chairs, some dishes for meals, a small television and a rug to sit on.  An outbuilding was used as a kitchen, but there are plans to eventually build a kitchen and dining area).  There was a tap outside, their source for water, and a latrine.  Eventually there will be flush toilets.

There I met the house mother, and the three siblings (all the other students were at school).  The children greeted us by getting on their knees and shaking out hands (This is how Ugandan children greet adults).  We played for a little while, so that the children could get use to me (I was the only new person there).  It was obvious how much the children had grown to love their housemother and she them!  The Jonathan was able to understand some of the housemother’s gestures (e.g.”wash hands and face”) and his older brother and sister were very attentive to him.  We got together in “recreation room.”  After explaining to Corrie, Beatrice and the housemother a little about how one learns sign language if they do not have any formal language we all (including the children) sat in a circle on the floor.   I took the ball and labeled it with the sign for ball.  Then each of the adults requested the ball from me, and when they used the sign for ball I threw it to them.  The two siblings did the same and then it was Jonathan’s turn.  His siblings helped him imitate the sign and the adults assisted him as well, doing some hand over hand support.  We  played this game for awhile as well as some others, introducing the sign for; car and phone.  As I gave instructions and described what we were doing I used my limited sign language so that everyone could see the different signs (of course not expecting anyone to use the signs at that point).  The housemother was very excited and wanted to try each of the signs I used.  After being there for a couple of hours we left feeling very excited about what had just transpired.  Although Jonathan was not using the sign language in a meaningful way, he was beginning to experience a form of communication that would hopefully become his vehicle to express his ideas, desires, concerns and creativity.

We returned the next morning and did similar things as well as some additional activities.  By the time we had left, Jonathan was beginning to use a couple signs to request objects while we were playing a game, as well as imitate some new signs (rice, banana, yes, no).  After some practice and modeling, when he was shown a picture of a significant person in his life (someone present there in the room) he responded with a “yes” or “no” sign to indicate that the photo was the person I was pointing to.  He was getting it!  He was understanding that the gestures had meaning and beginning to understand what the gestures meant!”