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Growing up deaf in Zimbabwe: a personal perspective

Published Date: 13 Jul 2021

National Deaf Children's Society volunteer Munya Ziyenge shares his experience of growing up deaf in Zimbabwe. Lack of early diagnosis or support at school made life difficult, but his family’s support has been invaluable.

I was born in the UK but went to Zimbabwe straight away. My parents found out I was deaf when I was 5 or 6 years old through a family friend who happened to be Teacher of the Deaf. She had suspected that I may be deaf having observed how I interacted with the other children at her house. She gave me a hearing test. The test consisted of two main boxes. One of the boxes had many little cubes and the other one was empty. I was wearing headphones and I had to put a little cube into the empty box whenever I heard a sound. I was diagnosed with severe hearing loss.

This was my parents’ first experience with deafness. For them it clicked why sometimes I would not respond to them before. My first language is Shona and relied on lipreading to communicate. I had hearing aids, but I recall they were not great, so I did not wear them much.

School

When I went to the first school I had not yet been diagnosed. Generally, I could not follow what is going on in classes. I remember seeing the teacher writing on the board and I had no idea what the writing was about. I would copy whatever the guy next to me wrote. Even though I did not learn much in school I enjoyed going to school to play with my friends during break times.

I remember getting bullied in grade 1. I remember feeling lost in classes and being transferred to another class without knowing why. I also recall an incident in a new class where the teacher read out aloud what I wrote with hostility and the whole class laughed. After I told my mother, my parents complained to the headmaster. We were told that the school will be unable to support me. I went to a new school briefly and again they did not have support for deaf pupils.

I also attended a primary school where the classes had up to 45 pupils. At the end of the year, we would take exams and I would usually score around in the range of 41st out of 45 pupils. As a result, I sat at the back of the class in the order of ranking. This made it harder to hear the teacher.

My sister, who is three year younger than me, and I were given 4 separate tests in English, Shona, Maths and Science. She got higher marks than me in all except in maths. Maths was the subject I understood as my father taught me at home.

My father talked to school to get more support for me. As result of this I started sitting in front of the class and in another school, I had one-to-one lessons with the teacher after school. I was moved to a special class for children with special needs.

Family

I generally felt included within my extended family. Most of the time my family would tell me what is going on in social situations. I did not have any speech therapy, but I remember my family would correct me when I mispronounced a word.  As a kid I did a lot of activities and board games with other kids. I did not enjoy watching TV as they were no subtitles. I would constantly ask everyone around me what was going on. 

I moved to UK when I was 11 years old. For the first time in my life, I was learning in classes as I had notetakers, radio aid transmitters and support from the Teachers of the Deaf. I later graduated in Physics from University of Manchester. I am currently working as a Systems Engineer for a global supplier of laser processing tools.

Munya Ziyenge has been volunteering as a deaf presenter for the National Deaf Children’s Society since 2016. He presents to families of deaf children about his personal experience growing up deaf. Munya enjoys volunteering and meeting other deaf people. 

Munya’s family friend who helped diagnose him as deaf is Libby Foster, who runs an organisation called Nzeve in Zimbabwe.