Between birth and the age of three, a child's brain undergoes significant development. Young children are constantly being exposed to new things that help their brains make new connections, allowing them to learn and grow. During this critical period, the most important development a child goes through is language development. Children build a vocabulary that increases with incredible speed and permits them to communicate effectively with parents. But how do children learn to communicate so quickly? By listening to other people speak.
For deaf children, the process of language development is much more difficult. It requires the child to learn sign language, which is often difficult at a young age because significant hand function has not yet been developed. In many cases, parents need to learn sign language before they can teach it to their children. Luckily, in most western countries, plenty of easily-accessable resources exist that parents can use to help their deaf child develop language and communication skills.
But for Deaf children is Swaziland, it's a much different story.
Deaf children in Swaziland face a plethora of challenges when it comes to development and education, and unfortunately, many of these challenges start at home. In her dissertation titled THE GEOGRAPHIES OF THE SCHOOLING EXPERIENCES OF DEAF LEARNERS AT A SPECIAL SCHOOL IN SWAZILAND: A NARRATIVE INQUIRY, Honeydale Njabuliso Nhleko states that stigma and discrimination are both fundamental issues for deaf children in the home. In Swaziland, deaf children are often viewed as a burden to parents because of their inability to hear. This often results in many children who are given away at a young age, or treated poorly in the household. In her study, Nhleko discovered that the majority of single parents raising deaf children were the result of divorce because one parent (usually the father) was unwilling to accept the child's deafness and chose to leave the family.
Even if parents accept their deaf child, more challenges stand in their way. Often a language barrier develops between deaf children and hearing parents, resulting in strains on the child-parent relationship. This language barrier also causes deaf children to miss important life lessons learned early on in childhood such as right vs. wrong and expressing emotions.
Early education needs to begin at home, but in Swaziland many parents do not have the resources to help their children develop. At Deaf Open World, we are reaching towards a world in which these challenges are no longer a burden to families, but rather an obstacle which can be easily and effectively overcome. Through our work, we hope to begin erasing the stigma connected to deaf children and better prepare parents to educate their deaf children so that they may lead a happy, healthy, and successful life.