Imagine that you could hear speech and sound last night but woke up this morning only to find the whole world has gone silent. Not that people are not talking, but you suddenly lost your ability to hear. That experience came like a dream to Juventus Duorinaah, a man with hearing difficulty who by dint of hard work and determination, graduated recently with a First Class Honours degree (majoring in Sociology and minoring in Political Science) from the University of Ghana, Legon. This might sound like fiction but it is a true story – an extraordinary life story of an exemplary individual.
Mr. Robert Duorinaah and Madam Monica Duorinaah, parents of Juventus, were illiterate peasant farmers at Chiria village in the Upper West Region. They enrolled him at an early age in the Chiria Catholic Primary School even though they found it challenging to cater for the family’s upkeep in addition to coping with the education of their son.
When Juventus reached Primary Five he suffered a Cerebro-Spinal Meningitis (CSM) attack which nearly paralyzed him. He was in a coma for more than one week at the Wa Regional hospital. He eventually woke up from the hospital bed only to realize that the noisy world around him had suddenly turned silent. Sounds which could be considered too noisy at a close distance, were hardly audible to Juventus – he had lost his hearing ability. His parents saw the predicament of their 11th child as the end of their dreams of making him a better person in life. They began to see him as a liability rather than an asset, and never counted him as an able person like the other 10 children they had.
For Juventus, he could not understand what was happening but soon had to accept his new condition. Besides, he had difficulty walking due to the severity of the CSM but the walking soon improved. He had hoped that he would one day regain his hearing ability too but that had never been the case.
He could not afford to be in the same classroom with “normal” pupils and had to spend the next three years at home helping his parents on the farm. Fortunately, in 1996 he was enrolled into a special School for the Deaf at Wa, from where he went straight into Primary Four. That was another restart, because instead of using voices as a means of communication, movement of the hands became the means of communication here. He had no idea what sign-language was and had never used it before, but he had to learn it and that was a struggle.
The Deaf and Dumb School in Wa was one of the most deprived schools in an urban centre. Learning to pass competitive exams in such schools required more than hard work and the barriers were sometimes too severe to bear. But by dint of hard work and against all odds, Juventus managed to complete the programme successfully in 2003 with an aggregate 12 at the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) which was considered exceptional because the authorities reported the best grade ever produced by a student with that kind of challenge was a 19.
Completing the Junior High School, the next difficult decision to take was where he could go next. There was only one ‘good’ Senior School for the Deaf, situated in Mampong Akwapim in the Eastern Region. Few students from the Wa School for the Deaf ever made it to Mampong. Everything else aside, there was also the entrenched perception that deaf pupils could not progress beyond Senior High School.
Teachers suggested that he be given technical training to be self-employed but Juventus’s family would not settle for this. Although the family was not well endowed, they encouraged him to take up the challenge of commuting to and from Mampong each school term. He accepted the challenge.
Progressing through these neglected special schools was more than a struggle and required more than hard work. At Senior High School form two, Juventus decided to try his hands on the November/December Senior School Certificate Examination as a private candidate ahead of the West Africa Senior School Certificate Examination.
Communication barriers made extra or remedial classes inaccessible. So he went through all the course preparations on his own as he was determined to succeed. Learning everything by himself and sitting in an examination hall not hearing invigilators and instructors was not easy.
However, he eventually made it by obtaining aggregate 13, thereby being the first deaf person in Ghana to try the SSSCE while still in school. Even as he was writing the Nov/Dec, he also registered for the WASSCE in Mampong and wrote that too in June 2007 and passed with aggregate 11, thus qualifying him for university. Juventus applied to both the University of Ghana (Legon) and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, and was offered admission by both institutions.
He opted to go to the University of Ghana, but even there the problem of classroom accommodation and support services became a nightmare but at the same time, it was an opportunity to begin to understand diversity.
The frequent absence of the interpreter provided by the University in the lecture hall was a barrier to effective participation, whiles late access to information often placed him off track and far behind his colleagues who had no disabilities. Sometimes, he had to leave the lecture hall after waiting in vain for an interpreter who would not show up.
It was not only embarrassing but also psychologically traumatising having to leave while his colleagues continued to learn. For the better part of his academic life in Legon, he was compelled by circumstance to miss lectures. Sometimes, Juventus was lucky to receive notes from the note-taker and at other times he had to depend on notes from friends who were willing to release their books to him to photocopy.
While social life adds values to university education and therefore shaping one’s future, social life for a deaf student was almost non-existent. Most out-of-classroom activities on campus were not tailored for the disabled.
In spite of all these challenges he was lucky to have a supporting and understanding family who always encouraged him to put the challenges behind him and move ahead. At the same time, he was determined to make it no matter the odd so as to become a role model for other persons with disability.
“At the same time, I was determined not to let them down – I mean my family and other challenged persons like myself. So by dint of hard work, and by the grace of God I successfully graduated with a First Class Honours, majoring in Sociology and minor in Political Science, thus being the first hearing impaired person in Ghana to get a first class degree”, said Juventus during an interaction with this writer.
A living example of resilience and determination, Juventus is currently doing his national service with the Integrated Social Development Centre (ISODEC), an NGO supporting to implement an inclusive education project in northern Ghana. He is of the conviction that disability does not mean that a person is incapable of doing anything. “Given the opportunity, they can perform jobs assigned them”, he emphasised.
Juventus is of the view that the barrier created by deafness as a social problem has been allowed to cause massive unemployment and under-employment in the country, despite the fact that people with hearing difficulties can undertake tasks just as their hearing counterparts.
“Ghanaians have placed spoken language above all forms of communication, a situation that has degraded the hearing-impaired and placed them at the peripheral ends of society.
“For me and many other deaf people elsewhere hard work, determination, prayer and willingness to learn make a whole lot of difference. But this is possible only if policy makers give us a chance by making provision for us, including employing people with disability”.
By Bajin Dougah Pobia