12 years ago, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo), a baby was born. Her parents named her ‘Uwezo’ – a name that means ‘ability’. They were probably full of hope for their precious baby daughter’s future, a hope they captured in her name.
What they didn’t know was that Uwezo actually had a disability – a disability that would mean that for almost a decade, she wouldn’t even know her name.
Uwezo was born in the village of Rubaya, around 37 kilometres from the city of Goma. Tragically she was orphaned at a young age after her parents died from an illness.
And until she was eight years old, Uwezo didn’t speak a word.
Uwezo’s uncle, who had taken her in, didn’t know the reason for his niece’s silence, but it all became clear when a teacher from the Ephphatha Centre for the Deaf met Uwezo.
Uwezo didn’t talk because she couldn’t hear. Uwezo is deaf.
Alexi Kambuba Kalaza, a chaplain and teacher from Ephphatha, remembers, “Uwezo was very shy and withdrawn. She didn’t know anything about school… she didn’t even know her name.”
This poor little girl couldn’t communicate for eight long years, because she couldn’t hear and no-one around her knew how to help.
Sadly, in DR Congo, people with disabilities are often brushed aside and ignored. And even worse, some people actually believe that disabled people are cursed, so actively try to avoid them in the workplace and the community.
Uwezo would have been very unlikely to find a job when she grew up. And awfully, Uwezo was already on her way to believing those around her who said she didn’t have any value. It would have been very hard for her to believe in a loving Father, and her identity as created in the image of God.
But thankfully, Ephphatha could help.
Ephphatha Centre for the Deaf provides a safe haven and a path to empowerment for those who have been rejected by society due to being deaf. The centre provides the only specialist services for the deaf in the North Kivu region (of around 9 million people), and includes a primary and secondary school, a vocational training program, a health clinic, and a church, all of which communicate in sign language.
Uwezo had never been to school before, but the gentle and patient teachers at Ephphatha are experienced in helping deaf children learn. After some testing to determine the nature of her deafness, Uwezo began learning sign language (French African Sign Language), using pictures to teach the signs for different words.
Today Uwezo is a happy and healthy 12-year-old. She can communicate via sign language with her teachers and the foster family who are now caring for her. She is doing well at school, is keenly involved with church, and is hardly ever seen without a smile.
Reflecting on her transformation Uwezo says: “[Before I could communicate] I was always sad, isolated, angry… I was reluctant to talk and play with other children. But now I feel proud to have met my peers who communicate with me and especially of the love that I receive.”
Alexi also reflects fondly on her transformation, “Uwezo has adapted to a new way of life. She has joy. She is thrilled to be able to play with the others as she has integrated in the community. She goes to church and is always smiling. She looks after the little children in Sunday school. Her life has been turned around.”
Uwezo especially loves singing in the children’s choir at the Church for the Deaf, where she helps lead the other children.
How exciting it is to know that giving Uwezo the ability to communicate also gave her a chance to know that she is loved by God, and the ability to worship him with others.
Ephphatha is truly demonstrating God’s love in action and showing that all people are loved by God and valuable and worthy of care.
Uwezo has many aspirations for the future. Right now, she is planning to “finish my studies and become a teacher of other deaf people”, while those around her are also quick to point out her talent and enthusiasm for leading at church. Either way, her future looks bright!
(Uwezo’s story is so wonderful that it’s being featured in our Christmas appeal. If you would like to find out more, or support the appeal, click here.)