My name is Monique Guenoune and I am 23 years old. I live in Rufisque, a small town close to Dakar. I was born deaf, along with 4 of my 5 brothers and sisters. My parents are also both deaf and we use sign language to communicate in my family. Almost all of our family’s friends are also deaf.
It was difficult to get an education when I grew up. The local school did not accept children like me, because they thought we couldn’t learn; none of the teachers could use sign language and they weren’t trained in teaching deaf children.
An impossible choice: education or family
My father found out about a school for children with hearing impairments in Dakar, and I went there for a while, but I had to live away from home in a host family who treated me very badly. When my father found out about it, he came and brought me back home. He then inquired at a private school for deaf children, but he couldn’t afford to send me there. After this, I stayed at home and started to do some odd jobs like cleaning.
When a local association started to offer sign language literacy courses, my brothers and sisters started to attend. Transport was expensive and it was dangerous to travel along the busy roads with many horses, carts, and cars. My sister was hit by a horse along the way, because she couldn’t hear it coming. My dad decided it was best for all of us to stay at home and so none of the children of the family attended school.
A new program offers hope
Then in 2016 a community-based worker – Babacar – called our house. He could sign and told us that the local school was now becoming inclusive. The teachers were being trained in sign language and in inclusive teaching methods, and he himself had been recruited as a teaching assistant to support the deaf children and the teacher in class.
Now my younger brother and sister (both still primary aged) would be welcomed there! I was so pleased that they had been given the chance that I never had. My sister is doing so well there now, she is at the top of her class! She is showing everyone that being deaf doesn’t stop you from making it to the top.
A chance to speak up in front of world leaders
People from Humanity & Inclusion, who support this inclusive school, came to my house with a sign language interpreter and they told me about an important education conference happening in Dakar.
I found out that it was a huge international conference, with world leaders, coming to talk about the importance of education and how they needed to spend much more money on education to make sure that ALL children have the chance to go to school.
They asked if I could speak at the conference about the importance of education for children with disabilities, on behalf of my younger siblings and all the children with disabilities in Senegal. I was very honored to do that, although a little bit nervous at first since I have never attended a conference, let alone spoken at one!
Getting the necessary resources for inclusive education
But once I understood what I needed to say, and that people just wanted to hear my story and the story of my siblings, I felt more relaxed. It was exciting to be part of the youth forum and to give my opinion when they asked questions about what needed to go into the youth statement. I was very pleased that all the other youth advocates in the room listened to what I had to say, through my interpreter, and they included my points in the statement.
I made the point that teacher training should include a focus on sign language and on trainings for children with all types of disabilities, and that children with disabilities should be able to go to school.
The next day I was on stage twice. I was pleased that the audience seemed to be interested in what I was saying. The moderator asked me who should be the best person to champion inclusive education in Senegal. And I said the economics minister, as he is the man with the money, and money is what we need to make sure every child gets an education!
After this session, I gave an interview and lots of people seemed interested to hear my story. It was exciting that people wanted to hear what I had to say. Some people also were interested to learn some basic signs, including some of my new friends from the youth forum.
All children deserve an education
My two days at the conference were an exciting and a new experience, and a real change to my everyday life. In fact this conference has given me a new focus to renew my own education as an adult.
I was glad to have the chance to bring my message to such a big audience and to hopefully make a difference.
I want people to realize that children with disabilities, like deaf children, have just as much right to go to school as any other child.
They shouldn’t be left behind any more. I am glad things are changing, from the days when I went to school, and was forced to drop out.