A sculpture of hands signing the alphabet is seen at Gallaudet University museum in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019. …
FILE - A sculpture of hands signing the alphabet is seen at Gallaudet University museum in Washington, Dec. 11, 2019.

An American private university dedicated to the education of the deaf and hard of hearing says it will use a grant from the U.S. government to assist deaf youth in Nigeria.

Gallaudet University in Washington said it will use the $2.05 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to help Nigeria develop programs for the education of deaf, deaf-blind and hard of hearing in the West African nation, which sends more students to the U.S. than any other on the continent.

More than 400 languages are spoken in Nigeria, and the initiative intends to make Nigerian Sign Language "more widely accepted and recognized," according to Khadijat Rashid, interim dean of the faculty at Gallaudet.  
 

FILE - Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.

"We really need to shift the mindset to have people see that this is not a disability," Rashid said in a statement.   

"It's really just a language barrier issue. If you teach deaf people in their language, they develop just fine like everyone else. When you pass by someone on the street, you don't know if they are deaf. They are just human," said Rashid, originally from Nigeria.

The initiative will promote education, employment and empowerment and was formerly called the Deaf-E3 Project. Gallaudet will partner with the Nigerian National Association of the Deaf and Wesley University-Ondo in Nigeria

Gallaudet and its partners will develop bilingual education programs and promote collaboration and communication between Nigerian Sign Language interpreters and deaf consumers. They also will expand awareness of employment opportunities for the country's deaf community.

The initiative was the inspiration of the late Isaac O. Agboola, born and raised in Nigeria, and "a beloved Gallaudet alumnus, faculty member, and dean who passed away in 2017," according to the university announcement. "Dr. Agboola wanted to bring Gallaudet home to Nigeria," said Rashid. 

Agboola was born and raised in Nigeria, and he was a student and co-worker of Gallaudet alum and teacher Andrew J. Foster, who founded 31 deaf schools across the African continent. Agboola first met Foster in 1971 while attending the Ibadan Mission School for the Deaf in Nigeria, and later worked for Foster's mission office in Ibadan.

USAID administers the U.S. foreign assistance program that provides economic and humanitarian assistance in more than 80 countries worldwide. 

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