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Neglect Of The Deaf In Cameroon 

By Hailey Fox*

One population in both the city of Buea and the country of Cameroon which continues to be unjustifiably under-represented is that of the deaf community. Deaf education, consisting of a student population and staff who communicate in sign language, receives minimal funding from the Cameroonian government, although the government does provide resources for blind education. As a result, the few deaf schools in Cameroon are all privately run. This is an embarrassment to the country, especially because Cameroon, like most African countries, has a significantly larger deaf population than more developed countries.

Diseases prevalent in African countries that cause a high fever at a young age can result in hearing loss. The high fever can be a result of malaria, meningitis, typhoid, yellow fever and other diseases. The frequency and severity of such illnesses can be minimised with proper health education and affordable healthcare.

Deaf schools in Cameroon are struggling to provide quality education because they are privately funded and their student population has specialised needs. The two schools in the South West region of Cameroon are the Buea School for the Deaf, in the Bomaka neighbourhood of Buea, and the Ephatha Institute for the Deaf in Kumba. Class size needs to be limited (10-12 pupils), in order for instruction to be truly effective as learning and communication are all visual.

Therefore, the school is forced to employ more teachers, which adds to the budget. The families who send their children to schools for the deaf are often unable or unwilling to pay school fees because they put the educational needs of their hearing children at a higher priority. In order to encourage families to enrol their children in school, deaf schools are often forced to charge school fees which do not reflect the real cost of board and tuition. The school has to depend on the generosity of national and international donors.

Aside from the financial problems facing the deaf population in Cameroon, when deaf students were interviewed and asked to name the biggest barriers they experience as young deaf Cameroonians, they repeatedly brought up the lack of communication and understanding between the deaf and the hearing populations. There are very few hearing people in Cameroon who have taken the time to find a way to communicate with their deaf friends or family members.

This lack of communication leaves them feeling very isolated. It also creates great difficulty for deaf people to find regular employment. Because they are marginalised, many deaf people are left in poverty with very limited opportunities. The financial or social aid offered in Cameroon for deaf individuals does not help them to become contributors to the Cameroonian society. A term which has become politically incorrect in many countries but which persists in Cameroon is the insulting designation of being "deaf and dumb."

Whether or not taken literally, this label suggests that due to their hearing loss, the deaf are somehow less intelligent and capable than others, which is entirely untrue. Such misconceptions do not need to endure. With both formal and informal education throughout our community, it is quite possible for the situation of the deaf in Cameroon to be significantly ameliorated. It has to start somewhere, so as you read this article please keep this in mind and make an effort to open this discourse among your colleagues and friends.

If you know any families with a deaf child enrolled in a hearing school or not receiving any education at all, encourage them to seek information about the opportunities to educate their child at a school for the deaf. With the support of their community, it is quite easy for deaf children and adults to become independent and responsible citizens. Deaf empowerment is the process that enables each deaf person to develop his or her skills and self esteem in order to become self reliant.

That is not to say that the deaf community has been completely void of any support network. It should be acknowledged that there are non-governmental organisations in place, such as the Cameroon Deaf Empowerment Organisation, based in Yaounde, and the Friends of the Buea School for the Deaf (FoBSD), contributing from the United States.

Also, those persevering to improve deaf education have opened some doors for deaf youth in Cameroon.  The Buea School for the Deaf is founded and directed by a Cameroonian, Aloysius N’jok Bibum and his British wife, Margaret Bibum. The couple, both deaf, was inspired to create a school for deaf children because of their own dissatisfaction with the limited opportunities for education for the deaf in Cameroon.

Despite their ongoing battle to generate adequate income to keep the school running, their student population has grown rapidly since the establishment of the school in 2003. With over 100 students, they have outgrown their current campus, a rented property in Bomaka.  The Buea School for the Deaf has recently purchased land to construct a larger and better equipped school campus.

The aim is to have the new school operational by the 2009-2010 school year, but the school is in need of funding for the construction of classrooms and dormitories. The Buea School for the Deaf website, www.bueaschdeaf.org, provides information about how to contribute to the sponsorship of a deaf student, aid in funding the construction of improved facilities, or even simply offer volunteer services.

* Peace Corps Volunteer in Cameroon

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