Jenebu Abel-Anyebe holds a master degree in Special Education from the University of Jos, Plateau State. She is from the Benue South Senatorial district of Benue state. She is a senior Education Officer with Federal Ministry of Education. She resides in Jos where she works and studies.
Ms Jenebu Abel-Anyebe is the Vice Chairperson, National Association of Special Education Teacher (NASET), Benue State Chapter. National Financial Secretary, Deaf Women Association of Nigeria (DWAN). Board Member, International Concept of People with Disabilities Initiative (ICPDI). National Secretary, Arewa Northern Deaf Women Association.
JOURNEY INTO DEAFNESS
My childhood and early education years were spent between Maiduguri, Borno State and Otukpo in Benue state. My parents were based in Maiduguri and being strong advocate and believer in Christian mission education, ensured my siblings and I had our primary education at St Andrew’s Methodist Practicing School at Home in Otukpo. We usually spent our vacations in Maiduguri. It was during one of such vacations in Maiduguri that I became sick and was taken to the Army hospital for treatment where I was given a very painful injection. I still remember that injection to this day.
A month or so after I returned to Otukpo, I became very sick and came close to losing my life. My aunty was the one who nursed me back to health. My recovery from this sickness was followed by weeks of severe earache that left me crying daily over the unbearable pain in my ears. By the time my mother visited, she discovered I was not responding to my name or unaware when spoken to. From there begun series of trips to teaching hospitals until finally, at Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital, after an intensive audiological evaluation tests, we were told that the combination of the sickness and the injection had completely damaged the inner nerve of one of my ears and there is no treatment for it. Suffice to say this diagnosis provided the confirmation of my status as a deaf individual.
I was at the age of 10 years and in primary 4 when I lost my hearing. Despite the change in my hearing status and the accompanying painful adjustment to my social and learning prospects, my family, especially my mother, ensured I continue with my schooling though I missed a whole term at the time. I had to adopt a new coping strategy and my strongest help and support came from my family. I was fortunate to have been exposed to books at a very early age. In fact, I was literally surrounded by books and I had read my first novel, “The boundary line” by Dennis Robins at that age of ten. I developed the habit of reading wildly and has been a voracious reader and this was what helped me greatly during those years of trying to find my feet in my new learning mode occasioned by hearing loss. Once the topic is written on the board, I leaned on my repertoire of earlier wild readings to fill in the gaps from what I missed from the teacher’s teaching. My weakest points in those coping years were the English aspect of dictation and mathematics. In those areas, my lipreading skill and partial hearing were not sufficient for me to follow and catch up.
I remember a particular experience that had a tremendous impact on me to this day. One of my teachers was not understanding and really made school life miserable for me. She went as far as coming to our neighborhood to rant that a deaf child has no place in her classroom and should be withdrawn from school. My mother was unperturbed and came to the school to challenge her. She told my teacher that I would not be withdrawn but would stay and learn and make it to the university! Such was my mum’s strong conviction in my ability to tackle the hurdles posed by my hearing loss!
I attended normal hearing schools all through primary and secondary education. I had no sign language interpreter and at the time, did not even know there is such a thing as sign language. I depended on using my brain along with other strategy like ensuring I sit in the middle of the class where I could get clear view of the teacher’s face as oral tuition is ongoing. I ensured I read ahead on topics and I like reading wildly which has helped in increasing my vocabulary from even those earlier years. I lip read and depended too on copying notes from my mates. I was fortunate to have intelligent friends back then who were adept at taking down notes and lectures. Despite all the challenges, I maintained first position in the class during my secondary school days.
CONTACT WITH SIGN LANGUAGE
My direct contact with sign language was when I gained admission into the University of Jos to read Special Education. It was also my first contact with the Deaf community of which I had been ignorant of until my encounter in that academic year of 1997. That began my gradual migration into the Deaf world.
I was in 100l as the only Deaf student in the class, however, there were many Deaf students in Diploma classes with whom I interacted. Through them I was exposed to and taught sign language. This has helped shaped and changed my life for the better.
There is a deep-rooted prevalent notion in the society that a deaf person cannot attain to a higher educational rank, much less, make it in life. This view was first expressed by my primary school teacher who insisted then that I should be withdrawn from school upon losing my hearing. It was later echoed by many people close to me upon completion of my secondary education when I started preparing to sit for University Matriculation Examination. They said, I quote ;
” You can’t cope in university o. It is better for you to learn handcraft or better still, go and learn hair dressing. University is not like secondary school, you can’t enter there and pass out. Vocational thing is better for you people…”
You will hear such discouraging remarks and negative aspersions about how the deaf cannot succeed all the time. But the fact is that I did enter like some of my deaf colleagues and graduated with honours despite all the odds.
I worked with the Benue State Teaching Service Board as a teacher in a normal hearing secondary school for three years and then taught in a special school for seven years. I was a facilitator (lecturer) with the National Open University within that period before moving to Federal Ministry of Education as a Senior Education Officer where I am presently at FGC, Jos. I am currently pursuing my PhD in Deaf Education at the University of Jos.
Our mindset is everything. We may be hindered by our external situations but once there is determination to make it, the challenges on our path becomes the stepping stones to actualizing our dreams.
Provide the deaf child with the needed natural sign language at that critical stage of language acquisition around the ages of 3 to 4 years and that deaf child will achieve much in life, backed with the needed family support that is so vital.