America provides many exchange students opportunities that would have been impossible in their home countries. For 2015-2016 exchange student Nehemiah Danjuma from Kaduna, Nigeria, that included feeling accommodated for his disability-deafness. At the age of 10 Nehemiah became deaf, “The cause wasn’t quite clear. It’s like going to bed and you start having some ear trouble. It goes for the worse and before morning you discover that you can’t hear again and that’s it, you are deaf.
In his home in Nigeria, his parents made little effort to communicate with him via sign language. Nehemiah said,
“There is a wide communication gap between the deaf and the hearing world…The feeling of being isolated is always there.”
Even outside of his home, the lack of equality was evident. In searching for jobs, trying to get an education and seeking healthcare there are struggles brought on by deafness.
However, in America exact opposite is true. Due to laws set by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) there are requirements for inclusions everywhere. This inclusion was evident through interpreters presence at school, social gatherings, events and even his host-parents ability to sign in the home. Nehemiah was placed by World Link, in Arvada, Colorado. His host family consisted of four siblings, two of whom are deaf. After merely minutes of meeting, Nehemiah experienced a level of inclusion and understanding not present in Nigeria.
“My host parents learned sign language to communicate with their deaf kids initially, but now my host mom is a certified sign language interpreter. When I first arrived, I remember my host mom saying I just fit in, and she was right. We just took off chatting comfortably in the car as if we have known each other before.”
After experiencing this level of understanding during his exchange, it cast even more light on the apparent inequalities in Nigeria. He feels that communication and inclusion are necessities for a person to fully develop, so Nehemiah decided to take a stand for acceptance in his community. Inspired by the values of volunteerism and leadership he gained in America, he founded the Sign Language Acquisition Program with the assistance of the U.S. Embassy and Abuja Support Program.
To kick off the program, Nehemiah and a group of volunteers hosted a sign language event. The event taught those in attendance sign language basics, like the alphabet. The event was also covered by the Nigerian radio station FRCN and the Kaduna Capital TV station. Through this program, one Saturday a month from March 2017-May 2017 programs on TV and radio will work to spread deaf awareness throughout the country. The event marked an important step in bridging the gap between the deaf and hearing communities in Nigeria.
Nehemiah hopes to continue to promote inclusion even after the three month Sign Language Acquisition Program comes to an end. He and a group of volunteers plan on starting sign language clubs in local deaf schools. These sign language clubs would invite parents and family members to meetings to learn and perfect their signing. At home, Nehehmiah’s family has even shown more interest in learning sign language. While Nehemiah hopes that one day his message of inclusion spreads throughout his entire country, he is starting one step at a time by bridging the gap in Kaduna. As Nehemiah happily notes, “Charity begins at home.”