The Institut “F. Smaldone” pour sourds-muets in Nyamirambo provides education to one hundred and fifty deaf and mute children.
“These children are part of our society and they need care and education,” the school’s director, Antonia Gadaleta said in an interview early this week.
In 1987, Sister Angela Casciaro from Italy visited Rwanda. She says she became concerned after discovering that many deaf and mute children had no access to education due to lack fees and qualified sign language teachers.
“Getting teachers for these pupils was not easy. We sat and put our heads together and we decided to help these children,” Casciaro continues.
The school started with 50 children in 1992 with kindergarten. After graduating primary level, Gadaleta says the school takes them to Gatagara in Butare Secondary School.
Others are taken to Gatenga technical school in Kicukiro where they learn skills in different disciplines such as handcrafts and carpentry.
“These skills imparted on them will help the children in future. Life is all about being creative,” Gadaleta adds.
In Gatenga technical school, deaf and mute children are intergraded with other children. The idea is that they are also part of society.
“We are trying to borrow this idea and help African children, giving priority to the deaf and mute, to orphans and to other disadvantaged members of society,” the director explains.
“The government in Italy gives each of these students an interpreter, some thing that the government in Rwanda is also trying to do,” reveals Gadaleta.
Gadaleta cites finding relevant syllabus for the deaf and mute as the biggest challenge.
She said the school Butare lacks relevant books. Sign language books are borrowed from outside the country which might not fit in Rwanda’s context.
The director stressed the need for students to have their own sign languages, depicting the culture and things done in their country.
“Different cultures vary, and this is why there is need for these pupils and students to have their own sign languages,” Gadaleta added.
“When you teach children here sign language of a king from Uganda, it not applicable here because kings in Uganda had different dress codes not similar to that of Rwanda,” Gadaleta explained.
Gadaleta approached the Ministry of Education and submitted a proposal to write a much needed book.
“The ministry gave me the go ahead and money to write books.”
Gadaleta said she has already finished the first book and the second book will be completed by 2009.
“We are planning to begin providing these books to students soon after the books have been approved by experts in this field,” says the director.
The other challenge is fighting discrimination. The director has taken it upon herself to educate other children and other people to love the deaf and mute and extend a hand of compassion.
“When these pupils are here with us because we understand and communicate with them life seems fine but when they get back home, they feel isolated since nobody speaks their ‘language’.”
Most of them are abused and intimidated on their way back home. The school appeals to parents, friends and the community to be more tolerant to not only the deaf and mute but to all disadvantaged members of society.