KAMPALA - She is deaf. She is beautiful. She is an advocate for the deaf under the Uganda National Association for the Deaf (UNAD).
Doreen Ndeezi, the gender and vulnerable groups coordinator at UNAD is married to Alex Ndeezi with five children. Ndeezi who is also deaf is the Member of Parliament (MP), representing the People with Disabilities (PWDs).
Ndeezi, a bubbly radiant 33-year-old woman allows us a sneak peek into her life: “I became deaf at the age of 13, after taking a dose of quinine to treat malaria.
At first, it was difficult to adjust. My parents were disappointed, then they had to take me to a school of the deaf. This was a trying time for me because l was not used to being around deaf people. I had to learn how to use sign language, which took me two months.
Before l learnt sign language l would isolate myself because l would not understand how to communicate with the others. I also did not feel challenged because during the lessons we were taught very easy things yet I'm very intelligent. For this reason, l decided to tell my parents to take me to a ‘normal’ school after all this is where l was from the start,” she gesticulates with emphasis.
This interview is the first of its kind that l have had to conduct through a sign language interpreter. It was a challenge to maintain eye contact with Ndeezi and the interpreter Susan Mujjawa, as well.
This brings me to ask Ndeezi how she copes in situations like this, when for example she has to deal with her children’s teachers, home chores, raising children.
Dealing with teacher-parent days
She explains, “Professional interpreters are trained to be ‘invisible’. However, when l attend teacher-parent days at my children’s schools l found it challenging to use an interpreter to follow up on my children’s school progress.
Sometimes the interpreters have ended up giving their own opinion regarding my children’s performance and the teachers would end up addressing the interpreter instead of me. So, l decided to do away with interpreters and resorted to writing to the teachers on such days.”
Managing the home
Like every wife and mother, Ndeezi is tasked to manage her home regardless of the disability.
She states, “I write down my expectations to let the workers know what I want. If they fail to meet them after a month, l sack them. However, l also try to motivate my workers by buying them something new, like a dress or giving them an increment for work well done. Consequently, l have managed to keep them working for six years so far.”
Ndeezi’s household is run under her supervision by two maids. Amazingly, one of the girls is also deaf.
Since Ndeezi is good at lip reading, she manages to cope with her workers who are able to talk.
Like most PWDs, Ndeezi has come face to face with stigma. She recalls an incident when she had gone for antenatal care. “The doctor looked at me with pity. He quickly called his colleague and told him in Luganda; ‘look at that deaf beautiful girl. Imagine what kind of man got her pregnant?’
l wondered why he would act so unprofessionally as though my being deaf took away my right to have a family.
The doctor did not know that l could lip read. So, l thought to myself for the next visit l will come with my husband. Despite the fact that l was wearing a wedding band, this doctor still stigmatized me. So, for my next visit, l went along with my husband and introduced him to the doctor.
I communicated by writing and told him that I'm over 18 years and l am married. I showed him my husband who was responsible for my pregnancy. Anyway, the doctor apologised and we have been friends since.”
She has also experienced audism. This is when people carry on a conversation oblivious of her presence thus leaving her out. This is a discriminative act. She advocates for deaf people to be treated with dignity.
Raising their children
Raising their children also poses unique challenges. “Another responsibility l have taken on is to teach our children to sign language. With homework, we communicate with them and they understand because we want them to get the information from us. We also communicate with them because we want them to be like other children. We would like them to learn sign language by choice,” she adds.
Their first child Lucy knows how to communicate using sign language. However, her mother insists that Lucy learnt by just watching her parents communicate.
To bond with the children, Ndeezi takes them to the cinema to watch movies. Sometimes, she has dinner with her husband. Ndeezi also goes clubbing with her friends once a month.
Curiously, l ask how she manages to dance to music she cannot hear and she replies, “I feel the vibrations of the music and l follow the rhythm while l dance,” Ndeezi explains.
Life at work
With a household of five children, between the age of 14 and four years, her hands are full.
Aside from her job at UNAD, she is currently pursuing a Masters in Project Planning and Management at the Uganda Management Institute (UMI).
Part of her advocacy work involves working with deaf women to enable them to access justice in case of rape or abuse.
She represented UNAD at the World Federation for the Deaf in Istanbul in 2015, where people from all over the world came to work out ways to improve the lives of the deaf.
According to Ndeezi, over 3,000 people attended this conference. Uganda was represented by nine people.
She says some of the challenges of her work include; many women do not know sign language since this is learned in school, which becomes a barrier when communicating with this vulnerable group of people.
This requires having two interpreters, a professional and a local one within the community who understands them.
Funding is still a problem since sign language is not yet mainstream. There is a need to use sign language on all television networks so that PWDs (the deaf) are able to follow current affairs.
“We have advocated for the inclusion of sign language interpreters on national television in collaboration with Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) but not all stations have adhered to the directive. But at least deaf people can access news updates on national television at the moment,” she explains.
Ndeezi, Social work, and Social Administration degree holder, under UNAD, partnered with Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER) and petitioned the government to implement the right to health to deaf persons.
This is because Uganda ratified the United Nations Convention of Rights for Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), therefore, Ndeezi wants to see Uganda implement these rights.
“It is not a favour but our right for the government to act,” she emphatically states.
Coping as a politician’s wife
She treasures the fact that although her husband is a political figure she is not so much in the public eye. This makes it hard for people to recognize her as a politician’s wife, which takes off the pressure that comes with living in the public eye.
Although her husband has initiated laws concerning PWDs and worked with the government to change attitudes of how people treat PWDs, she is out to make her mark.
Ndeezi recalls an incident when she accompanied her husband for a political campaign. People were dancing for him and ‘worshipping’ him and this made her feel good.
However, due to the demand that comes with political campaigns, she prefers to keep a low profile. He is currently the National Resistance Movement(NRM) flag bearer for central.
Her husband separates his home from his political life by ensuring that political visitors are only met at the office in Parliament.
While at home, he takes care of his children and they bond as a family.
The light side of life
Since Ndeezi drives, how does she deal with traffic Police when the need arises?
“I simply look at them and sign that l cannot talk. There is an incident when one of the Policemen called another one to come and look at a beautiful woman who cannot talk. Then he waved me off to drive away.
My condition has certain advantages in situations like this, I'm not bothered because they find it amusing to find a deaf person who drives,” she explains.
All in all, Ndeezi is one in a million; she has not allowed disability to stand in her way to achieve success. She is a role model to the ordinary deaf girl because she has family, a job and flies high the flag by advocating for the deaf nationally and internationally.