A 31-year-old Sam Oyugi Abero clad in a black shirt and grey khaki pants, standing at about six feet tall welcomes me with a beaming smile despite having set up the interview on short notice.
An inquiry into his early childhood life opens me up to a life full of pain but with a resilient spirit. Due to communication difficulties, Abero says he encountered several problems with his parents, siblings and community members since they did not know sign language.
“Whenever I would see people talking and laughing in my presence, I would imagine they are talking about me and would be very angry and end up fighting with them,” he says.
Born in 1981 to Alfred Olugu and Helen Abwoc of Oyam District, Abero is the second child in a family of five. He started his education journey at Ikwera Negri School for the Disabled in Apac District in 1998 to 2005.
He joined Wakiso Secondary School for the Deaf in Wakiso District where he studied for both O and A-Level between 2005 and 2011.
After A-Level, Abero could not continue with studies for a year as his parents could not afford to send him to a higher institution of learning.
“My parents were economically incapacitated, besides most of the institutions at that time did not have sign language instructors. So I chose to go for a theological course from 2013 to 2015 at Messiah Theological Institute in Mbale, an affiliated institution to Livingstone International University,” he said.
“I had one year of internship with the same institution after my course which gave me an additional basic training on primary education,” he adds.
As such, Abero says, he is able to teach all the four core subjects of primary education due to the training he got. He now teaches deaf children at Mother Tereza Nursery and Primary school, an inclusive school in Gulu Town.
Abero, who was speaking through an interpreter, says he has taught for the last three years at the school. “Being deaf myself, I felt I needed to give back to the community and my first thought was imparting skills in deaf children,” he asserts. He teaches Primary Five and Six and says he loves the Mathematics lessons more. “These deaf children you see are very good at Maths than any other subject,” he says.
He is proud to say that in the last three years, about 100 pupils have gone through his hands and he is grateful that he has contributed to the society positively.
“The deaf children I teach have also participated in debate competitions which is a great encouragement. Last year, Mother Tereza won the debate competition about child abuse among primary schools in Pece Division, Gulu Town,” Abero recounts.
As a source of encouragement, he assures his pupils that they can also make it in life not only in formal education but also vocational training.
“Some of my former pupils have not been able to make it in formal education but are superstars when it comes to vocational courses,” he said.
To ease communication between non-deaf teachers and deaf pupils in the school, Abero is training some teachers in sign language. As a way of helping reduce stigma on deaf people, the 31-year-old is reaching out to communities searching for deaf children and speaking to their parents about benefits of educating them.