Hello! Do you hear us – do you see us?

By: Johnny Baltzersen

Tanzania has long since ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – December 13, 2007). The country has even followed up with its own progressive legislation, the Persons with Disabilities Act 2010.  

But, but…. like so many other places in the world, Tanzania can be immeasurably far from words to action. The deaf people of Tanzania know this the hard way. Tanzania’s approximately 800,000 deaf and hard of hearing people are among the poorest and most excluded people in the country. There are few and miserable school and training places for deaf people. Job opportunities are similarly poor.

The ability of deaf people to be heard and seen and play an active role in society is closely linked to access to sign language and sign language interpreting. The deaf themselves must master sign language. Sign language must be recognized and treated as the ‘language of the deaf’ on an equal footing with the languages of hearing and speaking people. And sign language interpreting must also be a right in practice when deaf people contact schools, authorities, health and social services, politicians and the job market.

More power locally

With CICED as a partner and backed by CISU funding, the deaf organization in Tanzania CHAVITA has embarked on campaigns for the recognition of sign language and strengthening deaf people’s access to sign language interpretation. Most recently, the 60th anniversary of Tanzania’s independence on December 9, 2021, was the focus of three talk shows on national TV channels. Unfortunately, the broadcasts are not subtitled in English, so they are reserved for readers with a good knowledge of Swahili – see broadcast

Established in 1984, CHAVITA is an experienced organization with branches in most of Tanzania’s 26 regions. Despite good results in previous donor-supported efforts, the local capacity for advocacy and member mobilization does not live up to the challenges and opportunities. Research has revealed that most local authorities formally responsible for ensuring the rights of deaf people are largely unaware of legislation, international conventions, needs and rights. So, local capacity building and advocacy is the focus of the CHAVITA-CICED collaboration.

In December, workshops were held with chapters in the three designated pilot areas: Dodoma (also a government city) in the center of the country, Mtwara in the southeast corner and Tanga in the north.

The participants from Tanga reported that they have managed to establish a good working relationship with the local authorities, who have even decided to hire a sign language interpreter from January 2022. The interpreter must help deaf people in their contact with the municipality, police, healthcare and education.

Jobs for deaf people are a huge challenge, so the Tanga people were proud that 20 deaf people have been accepted into local technical and vocational courses. There are prospects for more apprenticeships in the coming year.

When there aren’t many jobs to be had, you can try to create some business and income yourself if you have the interest and skills to do so. In both Dodoma and Mtwara, there are encouraging examples of small-scale income-generating activities. Several deaf people have attended entrepreneurship courses supported by local authorities, small loans are available at as little as 2% interest, and small sparring groups have been formed among those who have ventured out as private entrepreneurs.

Ms. Amina Issa, CHAVITA Dodoma secretary talks about the challenges of changing

It’s not all plain sailing. In Dodoma, the government city, it can be difficult to maintain progress in advocacy. Too many civil servants are replaced far too often. CHAVITA also says that there is nervousness about taking out loans and that too many have to stop the business after a few months of activity. We are currently investigating whether corona-related challenges or other issues are causing the failures. Maybe we can find the right support to ensure better survivability for entrepreneurs.

Photos from workshops – groups from left to right: Dodoma, Tanga and Mtwara – CHAVITA chapters.

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