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Promote Deaf Literacy in Nigeria

by Save the Deaf and Endangered Language Initiative
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Promote Deaf Literacy in Nigeria
Promote Deaf Literacy in Nigeria
Promote Deaf Literacy in Nigeria
Promote Deaf Literacy in Nigeria
Promote Deaf Literacy in Nigeria
Promote Deaf Literacy in Nigeria
Promote Deaf Literacy in Nigeria
Promote Deaf Literacy in Nigeria
Promote Deaf Literacy in Nigeria
Promote Deaf Literacy in Nigeria
Promote Deaf Literacy in Nigeria

Since after the initial documentation of an indigenous Nigerian signed language – Magajingari Signed Language (MgSL) in 2018, we have taken the promotion of indigenous signed languages of African deaf communities very seriously, beginning with Nigeria. This is because we are aware that literacy acquisition for both deaf and hearing children begins at home and in the first five years of a child’s development. Deaf children in many Nigerian rural and urban communities lack early signed language access due to the absence of developed indigenous signed languages in their immediate environment. This is the background problem that our project “Promoting Deaf Literacy” seeks to solve, and this is the problem that led to the initial documentation of Magajingari signed languages, an endangered indigenous signed language used in Northern Nigeria.

This report is about the next level on our advocacy for deaf literacy through indigenous signed languages. Last year we hosted an 8 weeks online public lecture for deaf individuals, signed language interpreters, Deaf educators, linguists and other individuals that have something to do with signed languages and deaf people. We also held a public lecture across the seven states and cities in Nigeria during our Triple Action Project (TAP).

As we plan to have the TAP public lectures again in 2020, we have begun to put logistics and human capacity together to improve on what we had in 2019. This year’s public lecture which will still focus on promoting the indigenous signed languages for Deaf literacy will equally happen in not less than 7 states in Nigeria, targeting Deaf educators and government officials in charge of deaf affairs. The committee in charge of the public lecture and the entire TAP will soon resume work.

In addition to this, we launched a new lecture series on YouTube called “Indigenous Hands the Indigenous Voices”, which is designed to run on a weekly basis throughout the year 2020 and beyond. The YouTube series is a platform to discuss the vitality of the indigenous African signed languages and their importance in the raising of African deaf children. This program is currently seeking supports from friends and fans and so we are asking our friends and fans to subscribe to our YouTube channel. On the other hand, the program is aimed at spreading the fire to other African countries where indigenous signed languages are dying while deaf children have little or no access to signed language in the first five years of their lives.

Lastly, while we plan to have another elaborate signed language documentation exercise this year, we have continued to collect lexical data from across deaf communities. These data include name signs, deaf histories and other signed language items that inform us about more about Deaf life in Nigeria and Africa at large. These data collections are capital intensive and financially demanding as field volunteers do need some field materials plus transportations for this to be a success. We have come to realize that documenting the Magajingari signed language is just a tiny piece of the bigger project in promoting deaf literacy through indigenous signed languages. For this reason, we still reach out to our supporters for more. We will not stop until this is achieved!

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A Cross Section of the IDSL Lecture
A Cross Section of the IDSL Lecture

Soon after the initial documentation of indigenous Nigerian Signed language variety from Magajingari Deaf Community, Kaduna North in 2018, part of our immediate concern was how to make the general public understand the importance of our work and to prepare their minds for its acceptance and adoption. This is because, the underlying purpose for the documentation of indigenous Nigerian signed language is to create language access to over 75% of deaf children across Nigeria, most of whom are born in hearing families, who lack access to signed language in the first five years of their lives. Consequently, the documentation of indigenous Nigerian signed language and the promotion of it for Deaf education should serve to the benefit of these deaf children and their families.

Across the world, the importance of raising children in their indigenous languages (signed or spoken) is being emphasized at all levels. In addition, various communities and countries seem to have emotional attitude toward raising their children in their indigenous language because it is their cultural identity. However, it is unfortunate that many people in Nigeria and perhaps some other countries, irrespective of their attachment to their own languages are not aware of the fact that indigenous signed language is the linguistic (and in fact, human) right of deaf children. With this in mind, it became important for us to seek to create this awareness while we continue to document and develop the indigenous signed language for Deaf literacy.

Consequently, we held a public online Summer training on African signed language linguistics in which 500 people registered and about 459 participants completed the 8weeks training. During that Summer class, a lot of examples were drawn from the documented indigenous Nigerian signed language from Magajingari Deaf Community and participants confessed to the fact that the information they received from the class about indigenous signed languages was new and an eye-opener. Furthermore, the participants in that training were in demand for more of such training and knowledge. As a result, a second online course on African signed linguistics and interpreting has been scheduled to kick off in January 2020.

In addition, another public lecture was organized in several cities in Nigeria in commemoration of the International Day of Signed Languages (IDSL) in which over 500 people were reached. The lecture targeted members of Nigerian Universities and staff and functionaries of the government ministries. This is because, deaf children in school are under the Ministry of Education, while people with disabilities in general are under the care of the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development. Several individuals from the various cities signed up to volunteer with S-DELI during that lecture.

We hope to intensify advocacy and create more awareness to the public about indigenous African signed languages as we continue to document. We hope to have more public lectures in the year 2020 targeting different groups of people. We also hope to begin the process of producing pedagogical materials for deaf students from the documented language elements. All these require funding, which we continue to seek.

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As we continue in our efforts towards promoting Deaf literacy through the Indigenous Nigerian Sign Language, we adopt a multidisciplinary approach in promoting the Indigenous Sign Language among deaf and hearing individuals in Nigerian Deaf Community. One of those approaches is signing a memorandum of understanding with the Nigerian National Association of the Deaf [NNAD] as we reported in our previous report. Following the signing of MoU with NNAD, a Steering Committee was set up to oversee issues regarding subsequent documentations and the continued promotion of the indigenous Sign Language. Deaf members of the Steering Committee are currently receiving training on the Principles and Practices of Sign Language Linguistics and Sign Language Documentation with reference to Nigerian Sign Language.

As that is going on, we are laying the ground work for the launching of the hardware and online pedagogical materials on Indigenous Nigerian Sign Language [INSL]. In addition, we are identifying with some Deaf related grassroot groups such as Friends of the Deaf Foundation, Deaf Girl Child Initiative, etc., plus the parents’ groups, to launch awareness about INSL and need to promote Deaf literacy through it. We believe that all these groups will play strong roles in conjunction with NNAD in spreading the word. At the same time, S-DELI documentation team is negotiating for other possible communities to be documented while we currently process the signed language videos from the first outreach for online uploading, we are set to sensitize the members of NNAD on the new formed relationship for a great synergy.

Once more, we emphasize that we are grateful for the supports we have got so far from our community of supporters both home and abroad, without which we would never get to where we are today. We acknowledge the fact that funding is key to every step of our project  and so we are equally hopeful for more, because we may not get to the next stage of achievement without adequate financial supports and we may not succeed in creating language access to numerous deaf children in the rural communities in Nigeria, who are locked up in their world of limited communication and little hope for a brighter future. That is why this work is important to us. We pledge to not let down the investments we and all our supporters have made so far and the hope we have kindled so far in the lives of many deaf individuals through the little we have done. We as a team are ready to use and maximize whatever little resources we get to ensure that the job is done. As little funding continues to trickle in, we hope to apply new strategies as participate in any forthcoming fund raise opportunities.

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It’s been six months since we carried out the first stage of the Indigenous Nigerian Sign Language Documentation Project (INSLDP) which took place in Abuja and Magajingari Community, Kaduna North, Nigeria, during which time about 1000 indigenous lexical signs, expressions and short stories were collected. The signs collected are but a small portion of the communicative expressions of the indigenes of the Deaf community, meant to serve as a sample for subsequent documentations, while this initial exercise is meant to form a roadmap for subsequent documentations.

The next stage to the entire documentation of Indigenous Nigerian Sign Language Project is production of online and offline pedagogic materials of the language, while additional documentation exercises should go on in different Deaf communities, and this is equally a capital-intensive stage of the project, as it involves advocacy and intensive awareness campaigns in both Deaf and Hearing communities. This is where we are now. Despite the fact that we are yet to raise adequate funds to carry out the needed advocacy and awareness, we continue to carry on with some grassroot advocacy, including constant promotion the Indigenous Nigerian Sign Language (INSL) on social media and otherwise.

January 2019, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Nigerian National Association of the Deaf (NNAD), which is a very important piece of our advocacy. The national association of the Deaf will play a great role in pushing for legislature and advocating for the adoption of the pedagogic materials of the documented Indigenous Sign Language for use in the Schools for the Deaf across the country and in the families of rural communities. While we currently process the signed language videos from the first outreach for online uploading, we are set to sensitize the members of NNAD on the new formed relationship for a great synergy.

We are profoundly grateful for the supports we have got so far from our community of supporters both home and abroad, without which we would never get to where we are today. We are equally hopeful for more, because we may not get to the next stage of achievement without your supports and we may not succeed in creating language access to numerous deaf children in the rural communities in Nigeria, who are locked up in their world of limited communication and little hope for a brighter future. That is why this work is important to us. We pledge to not let down the investments we and all our supporters have made so far and the hope we have kindled so far in the lives of many deaf individuals through the little we have done. We as a team are ready to use and maximize whatever little resources we get to ensure that the job is done.

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S-DELI Team and Kaduna Deaf Association
S-DELI Team and Kaduna Deaf Association

In the month of October 2018, we set out on the initial documentation of Indigenous Nigerian Sign Language towards promoting Deaf literacy and creating language access for over 75% deaf children with little or no access to signed language from birth to age 5. The documentation activity, which took place in Magajingari community, Kaduna North, Nigeria was preceded by a 2-day pre-documentation training for volunteer team members and others, which took place on the 11th and 12th of October 2018. The hands-on training included courses on the Principles and Practices of Language Documentation (Dr. Emma Asonye), Documenting the Cultural Heritage of Nigerian Deaf (Prf. Imelda Udoh), and ELAN – tool for linguistic documentation (Ms. Aniefon Daniel Akpan), plus other short talks by Mr. Onyeka Onumara (Head of Advocacy and Outreaches), Mr. Joseph Uchenna Ibe (Head of ICT) and Alhaji Suleiman Dagbo, represented by Mr. Adelani, his Vice President and Mr. Abdul Mumuni. Participants in this training program were well informed and adequately prepared for the signed language documentation exercise.

After resting on the 13th of October, the documentation team of S-DELI traveled to Magajingari Community, Kaduna North, Nigeria for the documentation exercise, which lasted for 8 days. The team of fieldwork linguists and signed language interpreters were warmly received by the deaf community in Magajingari after which they lodged at De Nevilla Hotels through the period of the documentation exercise. A large amount of signed language video was collected during this time from indigenous deaf signers of that community, most of whom were adults with little or no education. According to the chairman of Kaduna Association of the Deaf, Mr. Michael Akaka, about 500 deaf adults were estimated to be living in the Magajingari community many of whom use the indigenous Sign Language as a primary mean of community, while some are bilingual – using the indigenous Sign Language and the English Sign Language they learnt in school. There seems to be very little language acquisition among deaf children in this community as most deaf adults we recorded did not acquire signed language as children but learned from fellow deaf persons as adults, and we did not see any children fluent in the indigenous Sign Language to record. All deaf persons recorded (language consultants) were given some kind of financial incentive and they felt so blessed.

In addition to the documentation of Indigenous Sign Language from Magajingari Deaf community and the training that preceded it, we carried out a variety other related programs such as, town hall meeting in Owerri Imo State, creating awareness among the hearing community about Deaf affairs in Nigeria, School visit in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, advocating for the adoption of indigenous Sign Language for Deaf education, and one day free medical program for members of Lagos Association of the Deaf , where about 200 deaf adults were treated for high blood pressure, and eye problems and many received free eyeglasses, plus two church visits, where we spoke about the need for churches to take the lead of Deaf inclusion in our society.

Major expenses in this trip included a return flight from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Lagos Nigeria, hotel accommodations for team members in Abuja, Kaduna, Owerri, Port Harcourt and Lagos. Other expenses included the purchase of medications and other internal transportations.

Documentation Exercise Going on
Documentation Exercise Going on
Couple that received eyeglasses
Couple that received eyeglasses

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Save the Deaf and Endangered Language Initiative

Location: Owerri - Nigeria
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @NaijaDeaf
Project Leader:
Emmanuel Asonye
Albuquerque, NM United States
$10,749 raised of $78,000 goal
 
109 donations
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