How did you learn about the birds and the bees?
Whispering in the corridor. Sniggering in the classroom. Sex education lessons. That serious talk with the parents. These uncomfortable rites of passage could have changed Namatovu's life.
Just learning simple facts about the birds and the bees would have taught her about birth control and sexually transmitted diseases. But Namatovu is deaf, and she missed out because no one, not even her friends and family, knew how to communicate with her.
At first Namatovu didn't know that she was pregnant, her body was changing and didn't know why. The nurse at the hospital wrote down on piece of paper but she could not read nor could her aunt who she lives with. Isolated, unable to communicate with doctors and her family. Without support from you, her future is bleak.
You can make a difference to the lives of deaf young people like Namatovu by donating by texting DCWW16 £3 to 70070 or online.
International Sign video or BSL video
Deaf young people are being overlooked
Deafness is the most common disability in Uganda, affecting 360,000 people under 18. Deaf young people are often overlooked when it comes to their sexual health – an issue which can be deadly, with AIDS-related illnesses the leading cause of adolescent mortality in Africa.
Poor communication lies at the heart of the problems facing deaf young people. Growing up deaf means that they miss out on conversations and education about relationships, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases because their peers, teachers, health workers and counsellors are often not able to effectively communicate with them.
This means deaf young people are often not aware when sexual behaviour towards them constitutes abuse, or they may participate because they do not know about the possible consequences. Increased awareness and communication skills would enable them to be more supported to make informed choices and take control of their lives.
We're training people to help
Our new Birds and the Bees project supports a peer educator approach, working with the Uganda National Association of the Deaf and Sign Health Uganda to teach deaf young people about issues such as sexual health, so that they in turn can give advice, counselling and training to other deaf young people.
The project gives Uganda’s deaf young men and women training in sign language and communication skills, and teaches them about relationships and sexual health, so that they can establish youth groups and networks in their communities and visit other deaf young people in their homes to provide advice and support.
We teach parents deaf awareness and communication skills, and help them understand the rights of their children. We also train professionals in how to support deaf girls and young women who have reported sexual abuse, as well as lobbying policy-makers and other key decision-makers to ensure deaf children have the support and services they need.
Help us keep the project going
95% of our work is funded by the public so your support would have a huge impact.
£3 provides sex education training for a peer educator.
£10 provides 100 posters to teach deaf young people across Uganda about consent and self-defence.
£45 provides sign language training for deaf children and their parents.
As well as educating and protecting deaf young people across Uganda and raising deaf awareness in the wider community, the Birds and the Bees project gives peer educators a new purpose and pride as they become deaf role models and affect positive change.
You can donate by text DCWW16 £3 to 70070 or online.
Meet the project team
Deaf young people we’ve helped and peer educators we’ve trained tell us why the Birds and the Bees project is such a vital resource for the deaf community in Uganda.
On growing up deaf in Uganda, 23-year-old Martha said: “It’s really hard for deaf women. Men see us differently, they see me as easy. Hearing people aren’t interested in marrying deaf girls; they just want to have sex with us.”
Martha told us about the sex education in her hometown Jinga: “There's a big problem around family planning. Many deaf people don't understand what it means. They are given free condoms but they don't know how to use them. They are told about injections but they say 'I’ve had my immunisation so it's OK' because they don't realise it's a different type of injection. Even teachers in schools don't have the signs and language to explain these things, so they can't help deaf people to understand.”
Peer educator Annet, 23, was given training by Deaf Child Worldwide and now works sharing this information with those like Martha. Explaining how they educate those in most need she said: “We use role plays and drama to share the message with people who don’t understand sign language. For example, how you contract HIV and how to use condoms. For people who haven’t been to school this is the best way to learn”.
24-year-old Silvia, another deaf young woman from Jinga, told us: “Deaf girls are used sexually. They have no protection. They take big risks because no one trains them about these things. Even though we are sexually active, many of us are ignorant about HIV and AIDS. The problem with going to doctors is the lack of communication. Sometimes we go with parents to help, but we fear talking about these issues in front of them. It's hard to go with an interpreter because they want money, and even if you go with an interpreter you still don't understand.. The nurse might say you're negative but I don't know what that means. Does that mean I'm safe?"
Betty, 21, from Jinga, explained why deaf young people struggle with sexual health more than their hearing peers: “The problem is parents don't advise their deaf children. Hearing people know about these things but we don't. Very few of us understand the details about sexual health.. Some people go to hospital and get a blood test. The results will say there are this, and this, and this, but these are just words on a piece of paper – most deaf people don't understand what the results mean. If I go with an interpreter it can be very hard, sometimes we don't want them to know why we are visiting the doctor, and some of us can't pay for it.”
Innocent, a 25-year-old peer educator with Deaf Child Worldwide’s Kampala Youth Group, is working to raise awareness of sexually transmitted diseases and encourage deaf young people to get tested.
He said: “I always encourage people to get tested for HIV. After training, they'll come back to ask 'If I have a problem, where can I go?' Previously they didn't care but now they ask for more and more information. ‘What hospital can I go to? Who can I talk to?’ When I talk to people about these things, they feel better as they know more about how to behave.”
Christine, 21, knows this all too well. As a youth leader for Deaf Child Worldwide partner SignHealth in Masaka, she has completed sign language training and sexual health workshops, and now uses this knowledge to identify and support local deaf young people.
For example, she heard about a local deaf young woman and her baby son who had both been feeling ill. Neither knew sign language so Christine used informal and gestural signs to communicate with them. The woman had been raped and the culprit, who was the father of her baby, had run away. Christine helped refer them both to hospital, where tests found they were HIV positive. Mother and baby were helped to access medication and support, and Christine meets with them several times a week to check they are taking their ARV drugs properly and also to teach them sign language and communication skills.
Christine explained: “I used the knowledge I learnt from the project on HIV/AIDS to try and help. With support from other peer leaders I helped this young mother access medication and care services. I know now that, with ARVs, my friend will live well and longer. I make sure she takes her drugs on time as her family cannot help much.”
Where we work
Deaf Child Worldwide works with partners in developing countries, facilitating work that enables deaf children and young people to be fully included in their family, education and community life.Find out more
Deaf Child Worldwide relies on the generous support of individuals to be able to continue its work. Please, help us continue this work by making a one-off donation online now