Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Buea School for the Deaf: Where the future of Cameroonian deaf children is brightened !

By Christopher Ambe
It is just a matter of decision by parents of deaf children and society as a whole and the future of deaf children will be bright. Yet, not enough is done to give the best, in terms of education and support, to this category of people in Cameroon.
       And that is where   Mr. N’jok Bibum Aloysius, himself a Cameroonian deaf, makes the difference: he, with the full support of his British deaf wife, Margaret Lioyd  Bibum, founded the Buea School for the Deaf (BSD) in 2003.  The wife became deaf at the age of two but got educated up to university level.
    According to Mr. N’jok, who doubles as founder and BSD director, “The primary objective of the school is to provide quality education opportunities to deaf children”
    BSD,which is registered under the Ministry of Social Affairs (Reg. No. 0005/A/MINAS/DDHPA/SDRPH/04 July 2007), is a private lay boarding school for deaf children.  The school, located in Wokoko, Buea, in the South West Region of Cameroon has   an enrollment of only 114 pupils and students. 
It is a fact that, there are just so many other deaf children out there who need to be empowered; but due to ignorance or the weak financial power of their parents, they stay at home.
    Of the 114 BSD boarders, 54 (28 boys and 26 girls) are in the primary section. The secondary section has 27 boys and 22 girls, giving a total of 49 students. 
     The current school programmes are Primary, Secondary and Vocational.  The Vocational Section, which is in the development phase, has six boys and five girls giving a total of 11 students.   BSD has staff strength of 30

Why Deaf Children Need Greater Support.
    Mr. N’jok , who became deaf at the age of six and  now holds amongst other academic qualifications, a BSc degree in Accounting and Economics from the Gallaudet University(USA),regrets that the situation of deaf children in Cameroon is very bleak.
“There are no government schools for the deaf as can be found in other countries, including in Africa,” he notes.
Students of Buea School for the Deaf: They need more public assistance
      “All schools for the deaf in Cameroon are private.  In some regions there is no school for the deaf.  There are no job training programmes for deaf people and hence employment opportunities are very few   Deaf children and adults have no access to health programmes through the provision of sign language interpreters.  Television programmes are inaccessible because there is no captioning.  Health information is not accessible to deaf people, a situation that can expose them to diseases such as HIV/AIDS and cholera.”
The Founder/ Director continue: “There are no support services for parents of deaf children.  Once a child is perceived to be deaf, it becomes the responsibility of parents to seek intervention services which involves seeking a school for their deaf child.
    “Parents of deaf children need much support and counseling in order to be able to cope with raising a deaf child. There is also the barrier of communication for the family with a deaf child.  Because of the child’s inability to hear, the child communicates most effectively through Sign Language.  However, it is often difficult for parents to learn sign language.  Many times family members are not interested in learning sign language which leaves the deaf child in the terrible situation of not being able to function normally in family life, often missing out on crucial information.
                        BSD Challenges
The challenges for a small institution such as the BSD in providing a comprehensive education to deaf children and youths that will enable them to integrate into society are monumental and complex. 
 To begin with, learning and mastering the English language which is fundamental to success in our educational system, is made difficult because deaf people communicate in Sign Language.  Sign Language and English both have different word order structure. 
·        School fees are the major source of operating the school but these are insufficient. “Even though our school fees are low compared to most boarding schools, the majority of parents are either too poor or are reluctant to pay all their school fees,” N’jok says.  “Parents lack the choice of sending their children to a private school or government school.  Recognizing this problem, we make every effort to ensure that the child stays in school by soliciting sponsorships in and out of the country”
      Deaf education is expensive due to the fact that the size of a class has to be kept small for effective communication (a maximum of 10 students  is preferable) and requires the use of teaching equipment that enhances visual learning.
     Deafness is a “hidden” disability which leads to much misinformation and ignorance about the needs of the deaf child.  “Society needs to be aware of the nature of deafness and how it impacts the deaf child or adult.  There should be more awareness and provision of opportunities for deaf people”, he notes.
                         Important Expectations.
·        Government Educational Support for deaf children.  Local Councils and Mayors should support the education of deaf children from their localities by allocating budget to subside school fees.
·        The different  Ministries should provide subventions to existing deaf schools to enable them to meet the operating costs of their institution.
·        The GCE Board should recognize and accommodate deaf candidates as they do in other countries by allowing sign language interpreters into the examination halls, give more time to deaf candidates, etc.
·        Parents of deaf children should make effort to learn Sign Language so that they can communicate with their deaf children.
·        The Government should support efforts to develop and have Cameroon Sign Language (CSL) recognized as in other countries such as Uganda, South Africa.  
·        Businesses should give opportunities to deaf people in their workplaces.

 BSD 200-bed Capacity Dormitory Inaugurated

       A befitting 200-capacity dormitory for the Buea School of the Deaf (BSD) has been inaugurated, putting to rest the accommodation problems pupils and students of this institution faced in the past.

Fon  Asongtia Valentine, Southwest Regional Delegate for Social Affairs, on January 20, 2015, inaugurated the one-storey dormitory, which is estimated to have cost over 100 million Fcfa

     The hall of residence has been realized thanks to funds from friends of BSD in the USA and Canada. The major donors after whom the building is named are Diane and Theodore Johnson from the USA.

Fon Asongtia unveiling the plaque on the dormitory wall
After the official cutting of the ribbon of the dormitory by Fon Asongtia, Catholic Priest,Rev .Fr Engelbert Ofon blessed the structure ,calling on God to be its all-time protector.

     The dormitory was constructed by Contractor Aji Jude of BA JUCAM E P, Buea, who said the project was supposed to be realized in six months but due to liquidity problems it finally took two years to be completed.

The school started in a rented building in Bomaka-Buea before moving to its present site at Wokoko.It emerged that BSD started without a dormitory, reason why in the night classrooms were transformed into bedrooms for the young scholars.

     Speaking during the ceremony, BSD Director, Aloysius Bibum said “Today is a happy day in the life of this institution, for after 10 years of its existence we are opening our dormitory”.

     The Director was very thankful to the donors and commended the patience of the Contractor who tolerated delay in his payment. Mrs.Bibum Margaret, who is Head of Instruction at BSD, was also very thankful to God for the realization of the dormitory project. “Everyday, I always thank God for helping us “, she said.

Back view of the 200-bed capacity hall of residence.
     Although the completion of the project delayed due to slow disbursement of funds, Contractor Aji Jude thought it was God who directed him to take the job offer. “If BSD has any other serious project, I will always be available to execute it”, he assured the school authorities.

     In his speech, Fon Asongtia said the dormitory was a “dream come true”. He commended BSD for being one of the only two schools in the Southwest Region catering for deaf children. He disclosed that the Ministry of Social Affairs has rated BSD as one of the best in the country in terms of promoting deaf children’s education/welfare.  The Delegate noted that if far away partners can be concerned about the welfare of Cameroonian deaf children, then there is every reason for Cameroon to be more supportive of its less privileged citizens.

     BSD Girls’ Senior Prefect Emilien Keafoun, who spoke on behalf of the pupils and students, admitted that the dormitory was quite spacious and comfortable a place. She praised the donors and the BSD founders for their sustained efforts to brighten their future.

     For his part, an elated PTA president Arrey Ndip pledged to donate beds to the school.

   Dignitaries at the inaugural included Nkwelle Jerry Ewang, Director of the Rehabilitation Institute for the Blind (Bulu Blind Centre,Buea)

   The Inaugural ceremony, which was coordinated by BSD Public Relations Officer,Gloria Okumo,ended  well.

       (First Published in The RECORDER Newspaper,Cameroon, of February 2,2015)

No comments: