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Malawi’s Deaf Push for More People to Learn Sign Language


Deaf people in Malawi are working to increase the number of sign language interpreters. There are only eleven of them in Malawi – not nearly enough to meet the needs of the country’s 50,000 hearing-impaired people. Juliana Mwase is the chairperson for the Malawi National Association of the Deaf (MANAD). Speaking through interpreter Bettie Wisiki, Mwase says interpreters are essential at churches and at locations of public services, like hospitals, markets, schools, police offices, courts, and banks.

“There is a lot of information which is being given to the general public on HIV and AIDS or any other health-related issues.,” she says.

“[But] many deaf people [cannot] access information. For instance, a deaf person may be interested in going for Voluntary Counseling Testing (VCT). That person cannot communicate with the medical personnel. And how can the medical personnel counsel that person if he or she is not conversant with sign language,” she asks.

Mwase says the education sector is also lacking interpreters, "As of now many countries in the world are advocating for education for all (EFA) goals by 2015 and even Malawi [is] saying by 2015 education should be for everyone, including the deaf. But if deaf people are failing to access what people are saying in class, how can they achieve EFA goals in Malawi?” she says.

To solve the problem, Mwase says the Malawi National Association of the Deaf is running a two-year training program in sign language based on English and the local language, Chichewa. The Scottish NGO, Deaf Action, is funding the effort.

She says the 20 participants include doctors, teachers, church pastors, businessmen and other individuals from different places where the deaf go for basic services. Upon completion, the number of interpreters will increase to 31, which Mwase says is still far too small. More may be trained, depending on the availability of donor support.


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