Caroline Nwugo Onu is the fourth child of her parents’ ten children. Her parents are late Mr. Donatus Onu and Chief Mrs. Victoria Comfort Onu of Umueleagwa Onicha in Ezinihitte Mbaise Local Government Area of Imo State. Sister Caroline Onu holds Full membership of Chartered Institute of Public Managers in Nigeria (CIPM) and work as Administrative Staff with Ebonyi State Universal Basic Education Board. She is the incumbent National Secretary of the Nigerian Deaf Women (NNAD Women Group). The Deputy Zonal Coordinator of NNAD South East Zone (SENDA). She is a member of the Board of Trustees of the following organizations: Save the Deaf and Endangered Languages Initiatives (S-DELI), Triple N-Donas Nigeria Ltd and SENDA. She is a volunteer Evangelist with Assemblies of God Church and appointed National Treasurer of AG CARE Deaf Culture, Nigeria.
Meet Caroline Onu as she shares her story to encourage others
JOURNEY INTO DEAFNESS
My journey into deafness started at the age of 17 when I was at the then Michael Okpara College of Agriculture Umuagwo, Imo State (Currently Imo State Polytechnics Ohaji). I was studying for National Diploma in Animal Production with intentions of becoming a veterinary Doctor in future. It happened that in the second semester of my first year, I became terribly sick immediately after school resumption. I had what I thought was malaria coupled with endless throwing up of whatever I ate. My friends took me to my uncle’s hospital in the nearby town of Owerri and my uncle sent for my dad. I learned that at a point I lost consciousness. However, I spent two weeks at the hospital and was discharged with lots of drugs. I opted to go home with my parents because I was really weak.
On getting home, I noticed I was feeling emptiness in my head. I told my parents and was advised to rest more since I just survived a serious ill health and I had my drugs. Then one afternoon I was with my younger sister and I started hearing different kinds of noises. I told her about this. She said something which I couldn’t hear. I could see the fears in her eyes as she led me inside the house to our parents. Though now I pass as Hard of Hearing but at the outset I was totally deaf.
COPING WITH DEAFNESS
I must confess that my family, friends and course mates helped me so much in coping with the deafness. My parents spared nothing in ensuring that I regained my hearing. We went to many hospitals, prayer places and even native doctors. But I noticed that anytime we went to native doctors, the little peace and joy I had would all evaporate. I told my dad this and he never took me nor allowed my uncles to take me there anymore. At that time I always felt sorry for myself when I couldn’t engage in family jokes like before but there was always a sibling willing to write down things for me.
As regards my school, I only lost some months when I stayed home. My uncle Mr. Silas Agbasi on hearing of my predicament visited us in Aba. He convinced my parents to return me to school because it might take lots of years to regain good hearing. My parents accepted this advice. So after making necessary arrangements, I was taken back to school. On reaching school, I had to write to the Head of my Department concerning my new health status.
But by then the whole school had heard that one of them was now deaf. As for my course mates they were marvelous. They shared out my notebooks. Within weeks my notes were up to date and they also ensured that I bought the necessary handouts. So most times, I stayed in the hostel studying, copying new notes and doing my assignments. I attended classes when I could. My friends also would not leave me out of their parties. So I attended parties and danced with them even though I hardly heard the instruments.
When school was on break, I went home and my family encouraged me to do things I usually did before. So I continued going to market, cooking meals, washing my parents’ clothes, car etc. There was no special treatment over my siblings, except if I was sick in other ways. I’m utmost grateful to my family for helping me conquer any inferiority complex that could have enveloped me. Also I always felt free to ask people to write down things for better information without seeking for undue sympathies.
I was able to complete my course with credit at the same time with my course mates.
CONTACT WITH SIGN LANGUAGE AND HOW IT HAS HELPED ME
While I was still a student at the College of Agriculture, my dad and Uncle took me to the Primary School for the Deaf located at Wethedral Road in Owerri, Imo State. There we met Late Dr. Mba and Dr. Mrs. Rose Ekeleme. It was holiday time, so I didn’t meet the pupils. But Dr. Mba and the few teachers were communicating in sign language. That was my first contact with the sign language. I was fascinated though I didn’t understand anything. After discussing with my dad and uncle, Dr. Mba gave me a card with the alphabets in sign language. He said it is the first step. He also gave us the address of the Deaf Primary School at Aba. He advised that I could link up with the teachers there.
Because of my school program, I could not immediately go to the Primary School for the Deaf at Aba . But when I completed my studies and went for my Industrial Training, I visited the Deaf School and the Head Teacher introduced me to Late Miss Stella Ndubuisi. Both of us arranged that I could come over to her house thrice a week after work and she coached me in sign language. That was my genesis into signing. But we didn’t stay together for long because not quite long after I completed my IT, I got a job with Imo State Agricultural Development Project. I worked in the office as well as visited the Imo State Secondary School for the Deaf Ofekata, Orodo where I helped to manage their school farm which was really big. That is where I met Late Pastor Ferdy Amadi and Mr. Ephraim among others. Through them and others I registered with the then Deaf Association of Imo State. But my interactions with the Deaf then was minimal because I had to study for Senior Secondary School Examination to obtain credits in Arts Subjects in order to change my course of study since the deafness did not allow me cope with practicals in the laboratory when I was studying Animal Production.
I obtained the necessary credits in Arts subjects and applied to Abia State University, Uturu for part time studies in Bachelors of Science in Government and Public Administration. I was offered admission. While I was still on the programme, I got another job in Port Harcourt Rivers State and relocated. I graduated with Second Class Upper Division. I lost touch with the Deaf for some years while in Port Harcourt.
However, while I was still at Aba, I had become a born again Christian but it was in Port Harcourt I started experiencing spiritual growth and the call to serve the Deaf as an Evangelist. So I visited the Primary School for the Deaf in Port Harcourt where I was given the ASL book to photocopy. With it I tried to revise what late Miss Stella had taught me. I also registered for a Diploma programme in Christian Mission at West African School of Mission (WASOM). There, one of my teachers introduced me to Mr. Kenneth Diouf who continued to coach me in sign language until he left Port Harcourt to take up a teaching job in another state.
At the completion of my Missionary Training, I had a huge desire to get more involved with the Deaf World. So I resigned from my job while Mr. Kenneth Diouf helped to connect me with Rev. Promise Uche Nwode the proprietor of International Model School for the Deaf Afikpo. He offered me job as a volunteer Missionary Teacher.
On relocating from Port Harcourt to Afikpo in Ebonyi State, I got more established in signing because I learnt signing from the students as I taught them in the classroom and in the Christian Faith. My relationship with the sign language was a long journey full of detours.
After teaching at the school for three (3) and half years, I relocated to office work as an Administrative Staff but continued to maintain contacts with the Deaf through Christian Ministry and membership with the Nigerian National Association of the deaf.
The knowledge of the sign language has helped me tremendously in Christian Ministry among the Deaf. I serve as a Volunteer Evangelist with the Assemblies of God Church, Nigeria and I accept invitations to preach at other Deaf churches and ministries. I also ran a Deaf Bible Club for youths until they left to various locations in order to make a living. Being able to sign has helped me in social and work relationships with the Deaf. For instance, when I travelled to USA to attend conferences, church meetings/fellowships and worked in Physical sittings of Deaf Committees. Also I used every opportunity I get to counsel Deaf beggars I meet on the streets to desist from the act.
Never give up on whatever God puts in your heart to do. Have the attitude of “I can do all positive things by the help of God and my genuine efforts”