The EENET Interview
Twenty-two years ago a determined young man was born into a family of seven in Walvis Bay, Namibia. Here, Paulie Nanyeni describes becoming deaf in late childhood, how he succeeded in higher education, and why he supports the development of inclusive education in his country.
What was your experience of education before you became deaf?
I started primary school in the North of Namibia aged 11 when I still had normal hearing. In 1997, having passed primary school with brilliant marks, I was admitted to senior secondary school. It was a boarding school and life there was really good.
When did you lose your hearing?
Life in this school was short-lived. On the last day of the holidays I contracted malaria. My face swelled up and I started to hear people as if speaking from a distance. There was something wrong in my left ear – it sounded like a fly, but it never came out! The next morning there was no more sound. I lived optimistically: my hearing would be restored and I would go back to school. But slowly I realised I had to live my entire life with no more hearing and I started to adapt.
How did you adapt?
I learned lip reading, which was simple and fun. At home, I followed my mother in the fields. When she asked me to do something, I repeated the whole statement. Learning sign language was not as interesting. I hated it – and the deaf children! It took time to accept the language. Finally I am happy with it. The second semester passed and I still did not attend school: this was very frustrating! I wanted to go back, but had to wait until the next year to attend Eluwa Special School!
What was it like learning with other deaf children?
The competition between learners was very strong. But having been hearing for over 15 years, I knew how to use the English language. I completed grade 10: the only candidate to pass from the school since 1999! I was ready to face the challenge of grades 11 and 12, but found myself at home; there is no higher education for hearing impaired learners in Namibia. This taught me to be as tough as I am today. I don’t let anything stand in my way.
How did you gain access to secondary education?
In 2001, with help of the Inspector of Special Education, I gained admission to my former secondary school, but without special preparation being made for me. I took notes, used lip reading and confronted teachers after every lesson! The atmosphere at the school was excellent and this was reflected in my results. I am still the only hearing impaired person with a Grade 12 certificate.
Why did you decide on a university education, despite the difficulties?
I’m a third year student of education at the University of Namibia. I’m doing this for my country, and for all learners who are hearing impaired. I feel very proud to have attained this high level of education. My life has completely changed! It is really good for me, and I plan to work for my government, which made these things possible for me. I have never felt the same from the day I entered the university.
What role did your family play?
A vote of appreciation goes to my family, especially my late father. My mother ensured that I had school uniform and regular meals. My brother helped me with multiplication every weekend, and friends were always ready to answer my questions.
What support have you had?
The Department of Educational Psychology and Special Education provides me with support. One of the staff members, Ms February, is my personal tutor and has taken up a sign language course so that we can communicate more effectively. If I had a laptop I could download lecture notes and use class time to lip read the lectures.
How do you see your future?
After graduating I will work in the Ministry of Education, where I will focus on the innovation and upgrading of special education. I want to provide future generations with a better education. I also want to see myself in parliament within five years so that I can influence my comrades to take up the issues of deaf people to the fullest. My dream is that the whole world will be able to recognise me for myself, and not just as a person who is deaf!
Paulie is Chairperson of the Windhoek Deaf Association, and vice-chairperson of the Namibian National Association of the Deaf. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org