Rev. Nzem Emeka Jonathan, a native of Umuagu village in Ibughubu Umuchu of Aguata local government area, Anambra State is a civil servant in Anambra State. He is a Senior Pastor of Deaf Culture Fellowhsip, Onitsha under the Assemblies of God Church, Nigeria. He is the Chairman of Deaf Christian Association of Nigeria (Deaf CAN), Anambra State Chapter. The General Secretary of Deaf Teachers Assocaition of Nigeria (DTAN), Anambra State Chapter. He has authored two books titled: Practical Guideline for Academic Breakthrough for Deaf Youth (2013), The Deaf Marriage and Family Life (2020). He is happily married and blessed with two children.
Meet Emeka as he shares his story to encourage others
JOURNEY INTO DEAFNESS
In 1990, at the age of four years old, I fell seriously ill. My mother rushed me to the nearest public hospital in our local government area. It was diagnosed that I had measles and fever. I used some weeks at the hospital recuperating from the illness.
Some months after I was discharged from the hospital, I woke up one morning and began to feel excruciating pain in my left ear. Soon after, I noticed a swelling around the same ear. I, therefore, called my mummy to the development. She chewed bitter kola and spat into the ear in order to relieve me of the pain. Nevertheless, the pain lingered. Then, I noticed that I was not hearing again with my right ear, but, I was hearing with the left ear but not very clearly.
As the news of my hearing loss spread to the neighbourhood, the children around engaged in mockery of me and called me the derogatory name, ‘OGBU’ ( a term in Igbo language that means deaf and dumb). I felt humiliated and ashamed. I consequently withdrew from the circle of other children. I could not stomach their insults. I felt better off hiding away from them. The only thing that saved my face was my ability to use speech that I had developed prior to the onset of deafness. I was able to maintain some level of conversation with my family members and a few friends through lip-reading.
My parents took me to different places, such as, hospitals, churches, native doctors, shrines, in effort to cure the deafness. My parents were given a lot of items like orthodox medicine, anointing oil, herbs among other things. I was to drink some, while some were to be poured into my ear.
There was this particular anointing oil we were given at a white garment church. My father would drop the oil into my ears at bed time. It did more harm than good. It would evoke stinging pains in my ears that would keep me crying and awoken throughout the night. However, my father would ignore my complaints, because, he felt I was undergoing healing process. Unfortunately, the so called treatment wiped out the residual hearing left in both ears and I could not hear again.
COPING WITH DEAFNESS
When it was time for me to begin schooling, my parents enrolled me in a regular school in the neighbourhood. But, I was performing very poorly. As a result, I was withdrawn from the school and kept at home for a number of years.
In the year 1996, when I was about the age of ten, my father learnt of a special school, Therapeutic Daycare Centre, Abakpa Nike Enugu, Enugu State and took me there for enrolment. On my first day at the school, I saw many other deaf children communicating in sign language. Then I realized that I was not the only deaf person in the world. I gradually mastered the art of signing.
Upon completion of primary education, I proceeded to International Model School for the Deaf, Afikpo, Ebonyi State. I had my secondary education at this school between the year 2001 and 2007. Afterward, I obtained my National Certificate in Education (NCE) in Christian Religious Studies / Special Education from the Federal College of Education (Special), Oyo. I presently run a sandwich degree programme at the Nwafor Orji College of Education, Nsughu, affiliated with the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) where I study Guidance and Counselling.
Coping with deafness has not been easy. I have been faced with distress, rejection, exclusion, embarrassment and isolation on account of the deafness. I have met with people, who upon learning that I am deaf would withdraw from me like plague.
However, the education I acquired, encouragement and support from my family and well-meaning Deaf and hearing people have helped me to rise above the stigma of deafness. I accept my deafness as God’s will, it happened to me because God allowed it. I am proud to be DEAF.
ADVICE TO OTHER DEAF PEOPLE
When one becomes deaf in life, it does not mean that all hope is lost. I admonish every deaf person not to deny the deafness or pretend as if it is not there. Try to associate with the Deaf community which will help you accept the deafness and find that unique identity. I advice every deaf person to embrace the use of sign language.