The Deaf Initiative
The vision for our Deaf initiative goes back to 2013, when Cathy Sander met Lungile, a woman who works at the SISEMA conference center where our team stays. Cathy approached Lunglie to talk with her, and learned that Lungile is Deaf. Immediately Cathy signed the lyrics from a song that we were teaching the children, and Lungile's face lit up in recognition and excitement. Unfortunately, Cathy knew no other sign beyond finger spelling. Nevertheless, the two managed to communicate and forged a friendship.
Upon her return to the United States, Cathy began to study American Sign Language (ASL) and when she returned to Swaziland in 2018, She and Lungile were able to have their first conversation in sign.
eSwatini has a higher than typical incidence of deafness. One reason for this is the high incidence of HIV infection, which can cause hearing loss . Another reason is that the treatment for tuberculosis, another disease prevalent in eSwatini, causes hearing loss or deafness in about a quarter of those treated .
Most deaf people are not able to communicate effectively even with their own family. Lip reading is not as effective as many hearing people would like to believe,  and few hearing people learn sign language. Thus deafness can be a very isolating condition. But it does not have to be.
The goal of our Deaf initiative is simple: we will study at the Swazi Sign Language College in Manzini and learn to communicate in sign. Once we have learned the language, we will be able to engage with the Deaf community in eSwatini and to find out from them how best to empower Deaf Swazis.
Our friend Lungile is as excited as we are. She gave us the shirts we are sporting in the photos.