Beacon of Hope: Advocating for the Rights of the Deaf in Somalia

September 29, 2023

NOVA closed out Deaf Awareness Month with a special guest on Sept. 28. Mohamed Del is a voice for those unheard. He is a well-known figure in deaf education and advocacy in Somalia and the U.S.


We know that literacy is crucial for education. So just imagine being deaf and not having sign language in your native language or access to schools for the hearing-impaired.

Thursday evening the Annandale Lyceum Committee hosted a virtual event, “Mohamed Del: A Beacon of Hope and Education.” Mohamed told the audience about his life’s mission to establish Somalian Sign Language along with schools for deaf students. Born in Somalia, Mohamed and three siblings were born deaf, while his other four siblings were not.

Mohamed is very grateful to his parents for sending him and his deaf siblings to a free school in Kuwait. His parents were worried that Mohamed would not receive a good education if he stayed in Somalia since there were no schools for deaf students there. “I really, really have so much gratitude to them for doing that. My mother was wonderful.”

While in Kuwait he learned Arabic and Arabic Sign Language. He said at that time schooling in Kuwait was very rudimentary and nothing like it is today.   

Once Mohamed finished high school, the Kuwaiti government required that he return home. However, in the early 1990s, a crushing civil war broke out in Somalia, forcing him and his family to flee to Kenya. At that time, Mohamed felt they had lost everything, including hope. He and his family spent three long years in a Kenyan refugee camp, waiting for asylum in the United States. After nearly giving up, they were granted asylum.

Mohamed was incredibly excited that he, his siblings and his parents were heading to America. After arriving, he was amazed by having 24-7 access to a proliferation of information--news,  newspapers, TV all day long. This was before the Internet became a readily available tool almost everywhere.

Now that he was living in America, Mohamed's main focus was to learn as much as possible, which meant learning English first, he then achieved his dream of attending and graduating from Gallaudet University in D.C.

Another notable Gallaudet alumnus was Andrew Foster. Known as the father of deaf education in Africa, in 1954, Foster was the first African American to graduate from Gallaudet University, the most recognized school for deaf and hard of hearing students in the United States.

A few years later, Foster established the first school for deaf students in West Africa and went on to establish 32 schools in 13 West African countries. But despite Foster’s remarkable progress, access to education for deaf students remains a challenge in parts of Africa.

Mohamed said, to this day, Somalia does not have a recognized or official sign language. For those who are deaf in Somalia, they must use a made-up sign language to communicate. He describes it as a lot of gestures and a mixture of International Sign Language (ISL), American Sign Language (ASL) and Arabic Sign Language. 

Mohamed said several factors influence the success of deaf education in Africa. He made it clear that in Somalia, before there can be access to deaf education, the country has to rebuild what was destroyed during the civil war and then focus on the educational system.

He said much work needs to be done to move social attitudes toward inclusivity and respect. Mohamed understands the misconceptions and stigmas surrounding deafness, but he also understands that these can hinder access to education for deaf students.

Mohamed wants to work with policymakers as his country rebuilds. He sees the need for a government policy shift that ensures deaf students have access to and the right to education. He knows the government has no money for this right now, since the country is slowly rebuilding, but he sees this as an opportunity to create a plan that will allow funding for such programs to flourish in the future.

In the meantime, Mohamed will continue to advocate for access to deaf education and will continue being a Beacon of Hope for deaf and hard of hearing people in Somalia!

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