It is finally the International week of Deaf People 2023 with the theme “A World Where Deaf People Everywhere Can Sign Anywhere”. This theme is a reflection of the many challenges faced by deaf people all over the world and expresses the hope and vision of a world where deaf people’s lives are not impeded by communication barriers. Everyday, people who are deaf or hard of hearing face numerous challenges and forms of discrimination that not only threaten their wellbeing, but also their contributions to society. One of the daily themes enunciated for the week-long event is “Building Capacity Across the Globe”. The World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) hopes to combat the various challenges and discrimination deaf people face by inaugurating a 60 country project – particularly in the 60+ UN Member States which do not have national associations of deaf people – with the aim of building capacities in deaf communities all over the world.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are over 466 million people living with a hearing disability, and this number is likely to increase to 900 million by the year 2050. From their data, Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the regions most affected by hearing-impaired disabilities, with four times more cases than high-income countries. With the number of deaf people projected to rise in the coming years and the poor economic development in many countries in Africa, it is imperative to explore some projects and interventions aimed at building the capacity of deaf communities in Africa and reiterate the importance of capacity building in Africa.

Although the Western world appears to have been more progressive in terms of building capacity among its deaf communities, Africa has also not been left out in empowering its deaf communities. Different non-governmental organizations and international organizations have been carrying out different advocacy and empowerment projects across Africa. In July 2023, the South African President – Cyril Ramaphosa – signed into law the South African Sign Language Bill which recognizes South African Sign Language (SASL) as the 12th official language of the country. The step was pivotal to the realization of the rights of deaf and hard hearing in the country. This epochal Bill is as a result of the hard work and efforts of the national deaf organizations in South Africa responsible for developing the South African Sign Language, promoting deaf cultures and protecting the rights of deaf people in the country.

Another notable organization responsible for transformative change in deaf communities in Africa hails from Ethiopia. Visions Global Empowerment is a non-profit organization based in the US. In 2013, they collaborated with local partners and schools to secure special classrooms for deaf children to provide formal Ethiopian Sign Language instruction through hiring deaf teachers; conducting student, teacher, community and universities’ training; providing capacity building support to local deaf organizations and institutions; coordinating community education and outreach efforts to help enlighten the general public; and offering scholarships to deaf young adults. The Visions Model Deafness Centre in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, is the first comprehensive service centre in the country specifically focused on the empowerment of the deaf community in partnership with the Kal Centre for Special Needs. Currently, the organization has an ongoing partnership with two US Universities (SUNY NEW PLATZ & Nazareth College) in bringing undergraduate and postgraduate students to learn about Ethiopian Deaf culture and education and also volunteer with various service-related activities.

In Kenya, deaf Kenyans are actively engaged in advocacy and education to improve their community’s access to resources and developing the Kenyan Sign Language which is the prominent sign language in the country. Further down to West Africa, Ghana boasts of an renowned deaf community in Adamorobe as well as a growing deaf community with a unique sign language – the Ghanaian Sign Language (GSL).

To tackle the hovering challenges of limited education, low job status, and low incomes faced by deaf communities in Africa, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) formed a collaboration with the Nigerian National Association of the Deaf (NNAD). Launching on the 23rd September 2021, the purpose of this project is to empower deaf, hard of hearing and deaf-blind children and youth through education in Nigeria. The three year project – Strengthening Deaf Education, Empowerment and Employment (Deaf-E3) – is expected to build the capacity of groups integral to advancing education that fully meets the needs of deaf, hard of hearing, and deaf blind Nigerians.

Through its advocacy and awareness programme, Save the Deaf and Endangered Languages Initiative) S-DELI – in 2021 selected four deaf women, who were survivors of domestic and sexual violence for a one year internship pogramme. The pogramme included a three week long training on how to become advocates against all forms of abuse against deaf girls and women. Two of the participants successfully completed the internship programme and are, today, empowered with the necessary skills to take on the world. This organization has gone on to impact over 5000 deaf students in Nigeria with its numerous projects.

In addition, the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) has also not been left out in empowering and capacity building for deaf communities in Africa. In 2016, the WFD launched a project, funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Finland, in the Maghreb region of Africa. The project aimed at strengthening the organizational capacity of the associations of the deaf in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania, and also provided training on human rights of deaf people. This project, which lasted two years, paved the way for more opportunities and protection of deaf people in that region.

So far, it is pertinent to acknowledge that building capacity among deaf communities will help enhance the lifestyle of deaf communities, protect their human rights, break down communication barriers by promoting the usage of Indigenous sign languages, dismantle stereotypes and discrimination of deaf people in communities, and promote policies that will support the advancement of deaf people in different professions and endeavours.

Like Ban Ki Moon – the 8th secretary-general of the UN – stated in the just concluded XIX congress of the WFD Resolutions, empowerment, inclusion, resilience and interconnectedness are the keys to overcoming the challenges faced by the deaf communities, we, at S-DELI and Indigenous Hands and Voices (IHAV) are on an explicit mission, are fiercely committed to the empowerment and capacity building of deaf communities in Africa. The work carried out by organizations across deaf communities have changed and continue to change and improve the well being of deaf people in Africa.