Maurice Senyonga: Leading the Way for the Emancipation of PWDs

1497 Views Kampala, Uganda
Despite Uganda's progressive policies against the discrimination of people with physical or mental disabilities, few such people have opportunities for education and development. 67-year-old Maurice Senyonga is one of a few people in his generation to have broken out of the mould. For the past 15 years he has worked as a lecturer at the Faculty of Special Needs Education in Kyambogo University, instructing teachers-in-training to use their abilities to expand the horizons of those with physical disabilities. Senyonga says he was born in Kitaasa village in Masaka district with all his senses intact. He was a normal child who attended ordinary schools and enjoyed playing football with his friends. When he turned 13, Senyonga was struck with an illness that caused his progressing hearing loss. No one in his village could diagnose the problem and so treatment to prevent deafness not availed. //Cue in: iIt was as a fever #i Cue out: i# lost my hearing.i// Senyonga's deafness came with speech impairment and many of his relatives wrote him off. They told his parents not to bother with paying for his education and to find him work as a casual laborer in the village. Fortunately, Senyonga's parents were of a different view. They enrolled him in Namirembe School for the Deaf, where he learnt sign language and lip-reading. He so excelled at his work that he was hired to teach at the school after his graduation. In 1987, a missionary, Andrew Foster, offered Maurice Senyonga a scholarship to attend Ibadan Institute of Technical Studies in Nigeria. He earned a teaching diploma in sign language and returned to Uganda full of ideas on how to change the fortunes of Uganda's disabled population. Senyonga says he was shocked by what awaited him on his return. Many of his former students were begging on the streets of Kampala and some had resorted to prostitution. He says he formed the first National Association of the Deaf to represent people like these and to offer them solutions to their plight. //Cue in: iSome they told me #i Cue out: i# association of the deaf.i// Maurice Senyonga says that despite the steps taken privately and by government, stigmatization of disabled people continues. He says he has not given up the fight. He earned a degree in sign language from Gallaudet University in the United States and started his work at Kyambogo, where he not only teaches signage, but also community rehabilitation for people with disabilities. Lydia Alum one of Senyonga's former students says she has learned a lot from him on how to treat people with disabilities and how to secure a meaningful future for them. //Cue in: iHe's very sensitive #i Cue out: i#trying sign language.i// According to the 2002 Housing and Population Census, at least four of every 25 Ugandans have some form of disability. Currently, there are about five million disabled people in Uganda, with only a few employed in the formal sector.