Speaking for those with no voice

Speak up for those who have no voice,
for the justice of all who are dispossessed.

– Proverbs 31:8 (CSB)

When we were first dipping our toes in the water of working alongside the Deaf community, I had the opportunity to receive some advice from a man who had 30 years of experience in Deaf ministry in America.

He said: “I have found that the best way to serve the Deaf community is to be the best interpreter I can be, because the only thing a Deaf person can’t do is hear.” I have tried to imitate that attitude as well.

Working with the Deaf community here in Eswatini, and we often find ourselves in the role of interpreter. Sometimes at the hospital, the police station, or some government office. Sometimes just in a restaurant or a shop.

But this week I had a unique request: my Deaf friend was invited to be interviewed by a local radio program! And I had the privilege of acting as his “voice.”

My friend received an unsolicited message from a producer at UNESWA FM, a radio station sponsored by the University of Eswatini. The producer wanted to interview him for their weekly program. My friend was interested, but needed an interpreter. I was happy to be invited.

We drove to the university and met the producer. She asked if she could conduct the interview on the spot, so we entered the studio and she and my friend began having a conversation — with me interpreting.

The interview covered many topics:

  • everyday life as a Deaf person in Eswatini
  • differentiating the various categories of “deafness”
  • some commonly used terms that the Deaf community finds insulting
  • and most especially the daunting challenges faced by the Deaf community.

EmaSwati Deaf people face severe challenges in areas like access to government services, access to health care, the impact of COVID and in particular the wearing of masks, and the vulnerability of Deaf women in particular to sexual and domestic violence.

Twice during the interview, the producer needed to take a break as she wept upon learning how very difficult even ordinary, everyday life is for the emaSwati Deaf community.

The interview ended on a light note. My friend’s upbeat, optimistic spirit ensured that. In spite of the challenges the Deaf community faces today, he remains full of hope for a better future.

On Saturday morning, the program will air on 88.2 FM in Kwaluseni, Eswatini. I hope to have the opportunity to hear it. I hope that many students at the university hear it. I hope that many influencers and leaders in the hearing community will hear it.

But my friend won’t hear it. It’s the only thing he can’t do.

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