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A dream that refuses to die – Yaqeen’s pursuit of an education

© Story and photo by Maha Damaj
She may be a natural talent at chess and dressmaking, but 13 year old Yaqeen is proudest of her drawings.

Sinnar, August 2012. When you ask thirteen-year-old Yaqeen about her dreams, she will consistently mention learning how to read and write.  When she was a young child, Yaqeen would walk her sister to school every day and try to enter the classes with her, but the principal and teachers would invariably send her home. There was no place in school for a student with a hearing impairment.

All these years later, Yaqeen has not given up on her dream to pursue an education, but she has also not stopped at that.

 Yaqeen was eight years old when her mother passed away, and she and her baby sister Sitt el Nissa, who is also born with a hearing impairment, were the only two children left at home during the day, while their other sisters attended school.  Yaqeen’s grandmother decided that the girl should be treated like all the others, and started teaching her how to take care of her little sister, and to perform tasks and chores around the house.  To do this, Yaqeen’s grandmother used basic signs, an informal sign language, which then became Yaqeen’s form of communication with the rest of the family.  When asked where she sees herself in five years’ time, Yaqeen’s answer is without hesitation, “Reading”, she insists

Since she doesn’t attend school, Yaqeen feels her day is particularly long, so she busies herself with various errands and handiwork.  Recognizing Yaqeen’s creative flair, her grandmother taught her how to cook, and to tailor clothes as well.  Yaqeen set about making drapes, shirts and dresses by hand, until her father decided to buy her a sewing machine. He insisted the store send someone to teach her how to use it. But this proved unnecessary, because Yaqeen had already figured out all the functions all by herself before the salesman had a chance to pass by.

A sharp observer, Yaqeen has taught herself a number of other things, as well.  Besides tailoring, she has learned chess from watching her father play the game on his computer.  Forgetting to exit a game one day, he returned to find her playing. And before long she was even beating the computer.

All this seems to come easily to Yaqeen, and she herself hardly mentions her feats. What she is most proud of are her drawings. She disappears for a moment to return with a veritable portfolio of illustrations, drawn on anything within reach – scraps of paper, cardboard, wood, Styrofoam etc.  Her drawings include impressive, excellent copies of famous cartoon characters, and many appear to have been expertly drawn in single, long strokes. And one wonders whether her attachment to them stems from the fact that drawing, much like writing, involves pencils and paper, the one skill Yaqeen would still like to master.

Yaqeen is sweetly admired by everyone in her multi-generational family, providing a safe, supportive embrace that has undoubtedly contributed to her self-confidence and to the ease and grace with which she interacts with most everyone around her, from her friend living next door, to sellers in the market. One can only imagine how well Yaqeen would have performed in school, had she been given that chance.

But perhaps the future is looking a little brighter for her younger sister, who also has a hearing impairment. UNICEF Sudan and the Ministry of Education are currently working together on designing a national strategy for inclusive education, which includes building schools that are accessible to children such as Yaqeen and her sister.
Efforts are additionally being made to include children with disabilities in the National Alternative Learning Programme (ALP), which brings out-of-school children up to speed with the national curriculum. Even the Ministry of Education in Yaqeen’s home state Sinja is planning to reach out to children with disabilities at a specialized training center that is set to open soon. The center has three classrooms and three trained teachers, and Yaqeen is sure to make the most of that opportunity. 

When asked where she sees herself in five years’ time, Yaqeen’s answer is without hesitation, “Reading”, she insists. And no doubt that is exactly what Yaqeen will be doing before long - if not much, much more.



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