WHAT IS IT LIKE BEING DEAF IN ZIMBABWE’S LOCK DOWN?
Just before the lock down in Zimbabwe we had 15 young women and teenage girls at the centre for a health and personal development project. We discussed COVID 19 and how to stay safe from it. We had hand washing stations in key positions over the centre and we practised social distancing. We are aware that many deaf people in Zimbabwe have not had information about the virus, so we tasked staff and participants to explain to other deaf people. Our vocational training project members were all informed about the virus and practised good hygiene whilst at the centre. When the project was closed on Friday March 27th they were encouraged to go home and stay at home.
A small Whats app group is helping those with smart phones to receive videos and pictures, but most of the Deaf do not have smart phones.
But what is it like for the Deaf community in a lock down? We asked people in the deaf community in Manicaland to tell their stories- what is the lock down like for you?
Many deaf people are afraid. They are learning bits and pieces about the virus, but they are not getting accurate information. One lady reported she is living in fear and doesn’t want to touch anything. The Deaf who have seen the pictures on the TV news are very afraid. They see people dying all over the world. However, there are no closed captions or sign language interpretation on local TV, so they do not always get the full story.
- Some, having heard the virus started in China, are convinced it is only caught by eating cats or dogs like the Chinese do, so they think they are safe.
- One young deaf man does not believe in the virus but thinks its just a way to keep people off the streets. He has not seen anyone sick with the virus, so he does not believe it exists.
- People in town think it must be better in rural areas because there is more food there, like birds, mice, wild fruits and mushrooms which can be harvested for free.
- Many deaf people in town work as vendors in the streets. “In town food is very difficult to buy because it is expensive, and we cannot go out to work.”
- Others have seen there is no awareness in rural areas – some deaf people are trying to spread the message, but it is too expensive for them to send SMS.
- One man told a story of the Deaf being hit by police, because they did not know about lock down and did not respond when the police called them.
- Most people replied the lock down was boring – one young man said it was like being in jail.
- “Deaf girls don’t like staying at home because it’s boring and they don’t have people they can communicate with at home. But deaf girls should not go out. They should know about the lock down and stay at home. It’s dangerous if they go out, walking and talking with other friends and enjoying sign language together. I know that’s very dangerous because of the virus. We must be careful and stay safe.”
Some of the deaf girls at the activity before the lockdown are spreading information and responded to our question-
“My little brother was playing outside. I sat with him and explained to him about the dangerous virus. He refused to understand because he wanted to play. I messaged my father and he talked to my brother. He told him – no more walking up and down the street. Stay inside- it is dangerous to be outside because of the virus.”
Dennias Mudzingwa, Secretary for Disabilities and special needs in MDC has written appealing to people to remember the Deaf community in these times. He suggests that in order to include the Deaf community in the fight against COVID 19, we must:
- Make sure information about COVID 19 is available in sign language and that information shared on TV should have sign language interpretation.
- Hospitals and other public institutions need people who can sign, so deaf people can get timely services.
- The public must know the need for the deaf community to get information, so they can help.
- The Deaf should be included in any assistance programmes, since their sources of income have been lost.
Nzeve will continue to work to reach the Deaf Community in different ways during the lock down. It will not be easy – if you have ideas please get in touch!
We’re all in this together – including the Deaf Community!