What you need to know:
Sr Rose Nelima wakes up every day to traverse communities in Mbale District in search of children with hearing impairments to support them and give them an environment to thrive academically, socially and emotionally. Over the years, she has made a significant contribution to education in addition to changing the negative social perception towards the deaf
In many developing countries, special-needs children are associated with bad omen, they are never taken to institutions of learning and they are often neglected by their families.
In eastern Uganda, the native name for the deaf is kasiru,loosely translated as a foolish person.
But Sr Rose Nelima wakes up every day to traverse communities in Mbale District in search of children with hearing impairments to support them and give them an environment in which to thrive academically, socially and emotionally.
Nelima has made a significant contribution to education in addition to changing the negative social perception towards the deaf, a job that aligns with her Christian values.
She is currently the headteacher of Mbale School for the Deaf, a government-aided school, and is a renowned activist who fights for the rights of persons with disabilities. The school has a vocational and a technical institute, which offers special needs children skills in disciplines such as, tailoring, metal fabrication, vehicle maintenance and repair, driving and carpentry, among others.
A vocation to serve the deaf
Sr Nelima, a member of the Sisters of Mary of Kakamega, ensures that children with hearing impairments go to school, maximise their academic potential and acquire entrepreneurship skills.
Since she became a nun in 2005, Sr Nelima has dedicated her life to serving mankind in a myriad of ways in her community. Known by many for advocating for rights of childre n with hearing impairments, through her work, she has touched many lives in orphanages, schools.
While her teaching journey started at St Paul College Mbale in 2002, she was dissatisfied and felt the need to offer her services to the unprivileged. “That school had children from rich families. I wanted to reach out to children in a rural setting,”
“I wanted to work in a school that would challenge me to think and generate solutions for existing challenges,” says Nelima.
She taught at St Paul College for one year and went for further studies. When she completed her master’s degree, she was posted to Gamatui Girls Secondary School in Kapchorwa District in 2005. In 2007, she joined St Joseph’s Secondary School in Bukwo District and later went to Nyondo Teacher’s College, where she gained experience in teaching.
“I introduced Christian Religious Education (CRE). I also authored a book titled Religious Education Study for Grade Three Primary Teacher’s College Volume one and two, which enriched my writing skills,” she says.
Nelima was posted to Mbale School for the Deaf in 2013 as acting deputy head teacher barely one year after joining public service as a class teacher. Five years later, she was appointed headmistress.
When the Ministry of Education and Sports through the Department of Special Needs, needed someone to handle administrative challenges at Mbale School of the Deaf, Nelima applied and she got the job.
The issues had to do with enrolment, unending strikes in the school, curriculum development, teaching and teenage pregnancies, among others. She was appointed deputy headteacher in acting capacity in 2013 by the ministry.
“I have restored hope and a sense of human dignity in the lives of children with hearing impairments in the region. Student numbers has increased,” she says.
An end to social stigma
Nelima’s dream is to expand the scope of the institution by creating more opportunities for the deaf. She advocates for education and ending social stigma.
“At some point, I had to teach 26 lessons in addition to handling administrative work. I would be in class teaching and when parents or other guests came, I would be called to attend to them,” she recounts some of the challenges she encountered when she was appointed.
At the time of her deployment, Sr Nelima says the vocational section was not functional and most of the machines were lying dormant. Others had been stolen or vandalised.
“I struggled to learn sign language in order to ease communication. The deaf are very emotional, but they can be managed. The moment you explain why you are correcting or punishing them, they become very cooperative,” she says.
Challenges that deaf learners face
Sr Nelima says learning, passing tests or examinations are still challenging for children with hearing impairments. She says they find it difficult to take notes because they have to keep their eyes focused on the teacher’s signs.
“The teacher has to give notes first before teaching, so that they just follow the notes. That exercise is straining and time-consuming,” Nelima adds.
Because teachers who know sign language are few compared to learners, a teacher ends up teaching more modules and has to go to class with an interpreter, which makes the whole process of learning lengthy and tedious.
Sr Nelima says many parents do not want to pay school fees for their children, not because they are poor, but because of the bias they have towards a deaf child. They believe they are useless and have no future to look forward to.
“When the term ends, I force them to go home. Many have confessed that they are never given enough food, some cannot share the same table with other members of the family, among other challenges,” she says.
Sr Nelima boasts of nurturing students who have become teachers and are assisting special needs children in the institution.
“The enrolment has also improved from 46 to 321 in three years. We have started attracting students from the Comoro Islands, Tanzania, Burundi and South Sudan,’’ she speaks proudly of some of her achievements.
She has also lobbied for increased funding from the government from Shs42m to Shs105m, in addition to Shs30m from parents. “This goes into paying utility bills, paying staff who are not on government payroll, buying medication, buying materials for the technical wing, among others,”she says.
25 years of service
She has also recruited more staff. “There were only 11 staff on government payroll, including two administrators. We now have 103 staff members; 30 are on government payroll, and 73 are paid by the school,’’ she says.
Aside from her administrative roles in Mbale School for the Deaf, Sr Nelima celebrated her silver jubilee on August 27 in Bumuhama Cell, Wamwa Ward in Nabumali Town council, Mbale District. The celebrations were aimed at deepening her relationship with God and a ministry of service to humankind.
Sr Nelima took her vows in 1997. She holds a master’s degree in Education, Administration and Planning from the Catholic University of Eastern Africa in Kenya.
She holds a post graduate degree in Teaching and Learning from Nkozi University and is currently pursuing a post graduate diploma in Exclusive, Deaf Education.