The provision and protection of rights for a multitude of different groups across sub-Saharan Africa is contentious, inconsistent, and, more often than not, non-forthcoming. Women, child workers, the unemployed, single mothers, those with HIV/AIDS, albinos and those with other disabilities have, in many cases, been left to suffer with little support from the law in fighting the prejudices or injustices committed against them.
Although the problems facing those suffering from deafness in South Sudan is consistent with the many difficulties suffered by those with disabilities across sub-Saharan Africa, the ceaseless work of one woman has helped to transform their struggle into an positive and inspirational story.
Back in 1992, five year old Atim Caroline Ogwang was searching for fruit near her home when an old Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) land-mine exploded. In that instant, Caroline lost her hearing. Losing one’s hearing is terrible in itself but for Caroline this was compounded by the fact that, as she was so young and had not yet learnt to speak properly, her speech was impaired as she could not make the correct sounds. As a result of this disability, Caroline has faced many tribulations in her life ranging from playground bullying to unfair detention by the police, from inadequate education to abuse and depression.
Through these struggles, Caroline recognized the acute need for better resources and opportunities for deaf people and developed a passion to ensure that these needs were met. She founded the Southern Sudan Deaf Development Concern (SSDDC) and this now provides sign language training for the deaf and hearing impaired in South Sudan, the first of its kind there, it also provides adult literacy classes, vocational training, deaf rights advocacy in education, representation in government and greater access to education for the deaf community.
Her work has recently been honoured by the Women’s Refugee Commission but Caroline will not rest. She wants to ensure that through education, young deaf girls in South Sudan do not either have to or accept to sell their bodies as a result of their disabilities and the associated difficulties they suffer. Interestingly, she says that, “We need to be seen first as women, [and] second as women with disabilities so that we can change laws for the disabled in South Sudan and all of Africa.”
Caroline’s story and work is an inspiration to all of us but it is particularly important as a motivation and positive example to those many groups that work tirelessly for the rights of various groups across Africa.