SERVE EMAD deaf students and teacher signing their names. Photo: SERVE
by Justin Power.
SERVE Afghanistan has been working with stigmatised groups of Afghans for many years. As is common throughout the world, Afghan society has false ideas about people with disabilities. To address this stigma, SERVE provides accurate information and demonstrates that society’s ideas need to change.
We in SERVE have had the privilege of learning from Afghans with disabilities in our struggle against social stigma. I recently sat down with two deaf SERVE employees to ask them about their experiences of stigma. Khalil is a supervisor in SERVE’s EMAD project – Enabling and Mobilising Afghan Disabled. He has worked in SERVE for over 20 years. Faiz Mohammad is a graduate of SERVE’s school for the deaf in Jalalabad, one of the few deaf high school graduates in the country. He now also works in the EMAD project.
How does your family feel about your deafness?
Faiz Mohammad: Some of my relatives were not very open-minded. They made fun of me a lot and said I should not go to school. One day my father brought me to sit together with all of my uncles. He told them to ask me any question they wanted. My uncles wrote questions down on paper, and I answered every one of them. They were completely surprised to see that a deaf person could learn to read and write. I think they realised then that deaf people can go to school and learn just as hearing people do.
What do Afghans think about deaf people?
Khalil: Most Afghans think that deaf people are crazy in some way, so they make fun of them. People have thrown rocks at me because I’m deaf. It can be a struggle to communicate with hearing people.
Faiz Mohammad: Throughout my childhood, people on the street laughed at me as I walked to school. They asked, “How does going to school help a crazy person?” It wasn’t until the very end of my schooling that things changed. People saw that I had earned a diploma, that I could read and that I had found a job. Only then, after 12 years, did they understand that they had been wrong all along.
How do you change people’s attitudes toward the deaf?
Faiz Mohammad: Information is important. One way of sharing information is to gather hearing community members together and teach about deafness and sign language and about the ability of deaf people to become literate and to work. If the leaders of a community are the ones sharing the information, community members will listen and change their thinking more quickly.
Khalil: We sometimes gather community members together and share videos with them about the causes of disability. People seem to accept that and learn well from it.
Faiz Mohammad: Learning also happens between neighbours. My mother would often share the information she learned with her neighbours. Mosques are good places for sharing information and for teaching people that it is a sin to tease deaf people.
How do you feel about your deafness?
Faiz Mohammad: I have a lot of strong feelings now about deafness. The deaf are neglected in all parts of Afghanistan. Most are illiterate, stay at home all day long and don’t have much hope. I am one of the lucky ones who can read. I want to serve the deaf and see Afghanistan develop, so that some day deaf people around the country will have the same outlook and opportunities as me.
SERVE projects inspire hope in blind, deaf, physically disabled and intellectually disabled Afghans.
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Karte Char, Kabul