Imagine not being able to fully engage and speak to your friends and family.
This is 15-year-old Patrick Otema’s reality. He lives in a remote area of Uganda.
He was also born deaf.
Growing up he had no access to schools for the deaf and has never learned sign language.
Most of Patrick’s day is spent alone in his hut, isolated from the world and not being able to communicate.
“Patrick’s fate is not unusual,” said journalist Kiki King.
“A majority of deaf people in Sub-Saharan Africa have never been taught sign language. Unable to communicate with others, they’re trapped in their own minds.”
But now a video has gone viral by British broadcaster Channel 4.
It shows how sign language is improving the lives of children and adults who are deaf in Uganda.
In the documentary, Patrick is seen attending his very first sign language class. It was organized by the Uganda National Association for the Deaf, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering individuals with hearing loss.
In truly remarkable scenes, Patrick is seen at the beginning of the film being reserved and detached.
But he soon comes alive and engaged as he tries out the new signs and is finally able to communicate.
Watching the class from the side of the classroom, journalist Kiki King said, “Patrick’s transformation is amazing. It’s almost impossible to believe it’s the same boy we met yesterday.”
In a series of posts on Reddit Wednesday, a user who identified himself as Daniel Bogado, the director of the Channel 4 documentary, said that Patrick is still enrolled in the sign language course, and has “learned a lot and is doing very well.”
“The rate of deaf people in Uganda is twice that of a developed country like the U.K.,” Bogado wrote on Reddit. “That’s because a very large number of people become deaf after contracting endemic diseases like measles, mumps or malaria.”
Many of these individuals are then ostracized from their communities.
“There’s also [a] huge amount of stigma surrounding deafness, which is considered a curse,” Bogado said.
But he added that organizations like Uganda National Association for the Deaf and Sign Health UK are working hard to change this.
“We [went] to other schools and the conversation skills of deaf children after being there only a month or two are pretty spectacular,” Bogado said.
“It’s like they have been thirsting for a way to communicate their whole lives and when it’s presented for them they embrace it with a passion — it really opens up their personalities as well, from shy and withdrawn, to smiling and full of confidence — it’s something truly moving and humbling to witness.”