Life After Losing Hearing Sense, Okwadi’s Story

Written by: 
Elizabeth Nakakoni


Born hearing on 4th October 1981 in Ngora district to Mr. Opit Gabriel and Mrs. Akiteng Kevin, Okwadi Michael lost his hearing sense at the age of eight through unclear circumstances.


“It was in the evening around 5pm when I suddenly felt so cold and decided to go and sleep. On waking up the following morning, my sense of hearing was gone,” Okwadi recalls.


Okwadi however says that since he was young at the time, he did not instantly realize that he was deafened. “I heard disturbing noises in both my ears and wondered whether birds were singing in the nearby bushes or it was a helicopter flying over the roof of my house,” Okwadi added.


Opit, Okwadi’s father says that everyone in the family was worried about Okwadi’s strange attitude. It was not the same lively Michael they had always lived with. “We noticed a strange attitude with him, he was not answering anything we attempted to ask, so we rushed him to Ngora hospital,” Okwadi’s father added.


However, after medical examinations were conducted, news from the doctor saddened everyone. “Sorry, he will not be able to hear again.” Okwadi was pronounced deaf from then on. However, the real cause of his deafness was not established, they thought it was malaria but tests did not prove so.


“Strangely, while Michael was admitted in the hospital, a man with hearing Impairment - a family friend but a very close friend to Michael, died. It was painful and hard to accept that my son was deafened but it was also a sign that God planned for Michael to become Deaf and replace the deceased”.  Mrs Akiteng Kevin, the mother to Okwadi sadly recalls.


For the family, it was not so hard to adjust their communication with Michael due to their prior experience with the Deaf old neighbor. With Michael, they continued speaking to him and he would lip-read and in some cases use local gestures.


Meanwhile, Okwadi’s educational career was shuttered. While hearing, he had been in a normal school. Now that he was deafened, it’s obvious that he could not continue in a mainstream setting since he was cut off by communication; he dropped out of school.

He was to start a new life, with new experiences – a silent world!


The stigma that surrounded deaf people made Okwadi hesitant to join a school for deaf children.


Asilon Grace, a cousin to Okwadi says that it took her two years to convince and make Okwadi understand that he could still make it in life if he agreed to join a Deaf school. That’s how he finally joined Ngora Primary school for the Deaf where he was until 1996 when he finished P.7.


However, because government policies in Uganda then would not give room to Deaf candidates to sit for UNEB examinations, Okwadi was not able to sit for PLE. He then moved to Nairobi – Kenya where he did a two year course in Carpentry and started working at the Ngora Primary School for the Deaf vocational section as a teacher of Carpentry on return.


It was until 2004, that government of Uganda passed a policy to allow Deaf candidates sit for UNEB exams. After self-revision, Okwadi sat for PLE in 2007 which he passed well.

It took time for Okwadi to figure out how he could continue with studies.


Jaggwe Michael – a professional sign language interpreter and counselor offered some good advice to Okwadi that revived his hope to further his studies.

“Knowing how smart and focused Okwadi was, I refered him to Kyambogo Adult Education Centre where he would remain working and study over the weekend,” Jaggwe said.

It is then that Okwadi joined and completed S.4 from here. He however preferred to do UCE from Wakiso Secondary School for the Deaf and that’s where he registered from.


After scoring a Division III in UCE, Okwadi did not end there. He wanted to continue to A level but was not financially well. It’s here that he went back to Mr. Maliro Ronald - the principle of Kyambogo Adult Education Centre to recommend to him good books that he could read on his own and be able to pass UACE.


“It’s amazing how he did it, he got the points needed to join University and thereafter joined Makerere. Okwadi did not disappoint”, Maliro said.


The policy of Affirmative Action provides for government sponsorship to any student with disability that gets 2 principle passes. That is how Okwadi Michael as a beneficiary joined Makerere University to do a Bachelors of Social Work and Social Administration.


At University, first time to be in a serious school setting and yet the only Deaf student in the whole campus by the time he joined, Okwadi says the experience was such a challenging one. These ranged from attending wrong classes for close to a month to being resented by fellow classmates and not being understood by lecturers.


“Some students looked at me as though I were a beast. Whenever I booked a seat in the lecture room, no one sat close to me and therefore all seats next to me would remain empty,” Okwadi recalls.


Okwadi adds that due to his disability, he depended on a sign language interpreter to bridge the communication gap especially during lectures. However, some students felt inconvenienced since the interpreter sat in front of the class in order to have a good eye contact with his client to be able to deliver the information because Sign language is a visual language.

This would divide students’ attention between the lecturer and the Interpreter because this was a very new experience for most of them. However, as time went by Okwadi says students got used to him.


Kaweesi Hannington became Okwadi’s closest and best friend during the 3years’ course. However, their friendship was conditional at first.

“I had to buy him weekly message bundles if I expected him to keep me updated on class assignments and lectures”, Okwadi echoed.


Hannington says that he was so surprised that someone deaf could study and even reach university level. He always thought that students with disabilities study in separate classrooms but here Okwadi was, sitting in the same lecture room as the rest of the ‘normal’ students.


“I came to realize that Okwadi was such a good person after interacting with him for some time and when he fell short of funds to pay his interpreter, I started sitting next to him to write him main paints during lectures or group discussions. While lecturers dictated notes, he would copy from me. He was such a quick learner and his performance was always good. We have become such tight buddies that even after campus, we are still in touch. He even taught me some basic sign language,” Hannington freely explains.


Albert Staku, Okwadi’s former roommate at Lumumba hall says, “I learnt a lot during the time we shared room with Okwadi; I learnt to respect mankind irrespective of their disability. Okwadi is a very kind person, willing to help anyone at any given time. He helped me countless times”. Staku added.


With a smile on his face, Okwadi says that, “the three years at Makerere University have been worth my effort. I look back on life’s experiences and just thank God. I am going to graduate in January 2019.”


However, Okwadi is concerned about access to employment for people with hearing impairment.  He remembers how he suffered just to get an internship placement and was rejected by multiple organizations just because bosses found out he had a disability.


“I wrote to different organizations seeking for internship placement. At first, I did not indicate my nature of disability under personal information and I was accepted. However, on reaching there, on finding out that I had a hearing impairment, my name was scrapped off the internship list. I lost two placements. Having it in mind that it could have shocked bosses to find out later about my disability and yet they had arranged everything for a hearing person, the next time I was applying, I indicated (Deaf – Sms only) under my contact information and no single organization contacted me for a placement. I had no option left but to go to a disability organization (Sign Health – Ntinda) and that is where I was welcomed.


Okwadi is currently a volunteer with Cheshire services Uganda – a disability advocacy organization, but looks forward to bigger job opportunities.


On this, he calls upon government of Uganda to streamline policies for employment of persons with hearing impairment.