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A decade of service to deaf babies and their families celebrated

- Refilwe Mabula

HI HOPES celebrates its ten year anniversary in a "HI Tea" breakfast with powerful speakers.

For more than a decade, HI HOPES, a community outreach arm linked to the Centre of Deafness at Wits has given hope to thousands of deaf and hard of hearing infants and their families, by offering vital early interventions to the infants.

HI HOPES has grown throughout the country, serving families in Gauteng, Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and a pilot project in the Eastern Cape.

On Thursday morning, 12 May 2016, HI HOPES celebrated its ten years of service and dedication with a “shweshwe” orange themed, "HI Tea" breakfast. The event was hosted on the beautiful gardens of Vice-Chancellor Professor Adam Habib and his wife Fatima Habib’s residency in Jubilee Road.

Mrs Habib was delighted to host and shared her personal experiences of deafness. She has two deaf brother-in laws and spoke about the difficulties her one deaf brother-in-law experienced at technikon in Durban when he stayed with her and the VC.

Due to the lack of support for the hearing impaired in the 1980’s, her brother-in-law who was studying for a diploma in Commerce, had to drop out.

“What they would do is that they would write on the chalkboard and talk. He could only lip read. So he was not able to get notes and respond, and the students were very unhelpful.

That was then. This is now. Can you imagine people with no resources, people from rural communities and historically disadvantaged backgrounds? Can you imagine what they go through?”

The ground-breaking HI HOPES project is the brainchild of and led by Professor Claudine Storbeck, a specialist in Deaf Education. Storbeck spoke on the role and future plans of the project.

“Our role as early intervention is to be the brain of the lives of doctors and nurses and paediatrician as we encourage them to start screening for hearing loss and deaf babies. Every baby born in the developed world is screened for free. We are trying to push that in South Africa - that every baby born is offered free screening. We have Netcare on board and we have quite a few of the public hospitals on board and we will continue to push. But our actual job is to work with the babies once identified."

Two deaf and successful career women, Candice Morgan and Jabulile Ngwenya navigated guests on their journeys of being deaf women in South Africa.

Morgan is a Deaf-TV presenter, former Miss Deaf SA and Miss Deaf World. She said that before participating in pageants, she had wished to be a doctor and was disappointed that she could not enter University. However, despite this she never despaired.

“I lost my dream because I was deaf. I really couldn’t matriculate very well. So I decided, if couldn’t become a doctor, maybe I could become a TV presenter.

Yes I am a presenter and I enjoy that. But it was not challenging enough for me. I was Miss World, Miss SA for the deaf and I enjoyed it. But I really wanted intellectual stimulation. I wanted to study politics and the lectures couldn’t understand me and I couldn’t understand them.”

Her desire for intellectual stimulation saw her registering with UNISA for a degree in politics. Today Morgan prevailed through the struggles that came with her studies and has obtained her politics degree. She hopes to further her studies in the future to fight for the rights of deaf people.

“I am not doing these degrees for myself. I am doing these degrees because I want to fight for deaf children. I want to do politics for the deaf. I want to fight for equal rights for children. I want to encourage people to know that, even if they are deaf, they have access to the world and not just South Africa,” said Morgan.

Ngwenya is a journalist who, as a deaf woman, defied the challenges of a telephone and audio dominated world, when she pursued journalism as a career. She attributes her confidence and success to her parents who only found out she was deaf when she was eight months old.

“What Claudine does for HI HOPES reminded me of what my mother did for me. My mother refused to let an obstacle stand her way. The doctors told her I will never speak. They told her I will nerve know language. My mother empowered herself. She took me to speech therapy. She taught me sign language and she taught herself how to sign as well,” said Ngwenya. 

Ngwenya says she was raised like any other ordinary child and because she was empowered by her parents, she only discovered she was deaf at the age of ten when her pre-teen friends spoke about a language she did not understand - music.

Vouchers and gifts from generous sponsors were auctioned off at the breakfast to raise funds for the project. HI HOPES will continue celebrating its anniversary through a number of events this year.