A young boy is sitting in his classroom, fiddling with scraps of paper. He’s silent, while the other children around him recite the alphabet.

The school bell rings and the children scurry outside. The young boy stands in the corner alone, sadly watching the other children play. He grabs at his ears, removes his hearing aids and drops them on the floor as he walks away.

This is one of the scenes from a short film illustrating how the deaf community in Yemen feels cut off from the hearing world. The four-minute film was produced by Ocsana Institution, a Yemen-based organization focused on empowering persons with hearing and speaking impairments through community-based advocacy and awareness.

The video was part of a wider media awareness campaign and a series of workshops organized by Ocsana with the support of Counterpart International’s Responsive Governance Project (RGP), funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

The film, with English and Arabic subtitles, presents examples of daily challenges faced by those with hearing and speaking disabilities, showcasing the need to create a place where persons with disabilities are fully engaged in day-to-day life.

The number of persons with hearing and speaking disabilities is high in Yemen, yet they remain underrepresented in everyday life. In the work force, those who are deaf or hard of hearing remain less likely to hold high-skilled positions than those without impairments. Only one school is located in the capital of Sana’a for students with hearing disabilities.

According to Yemen’s Central Bureau of Statistics, an estimate seven percent of the country’s population of 25 million suffer from hearing disabilities, compared to the average rate of 5 per cent worldwide.

Established in 2010, the institution was founded by Ocsana Shogaa Aldeen who witnessed how her son was marginalized by the government and public because of his disability.

Although the Yemeni government is a signatory of the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, there is a lack of support. Most people depend on the help of charities that struggle to provide with its limited resources.

Counterpart is working with Ocsana to build its institutional and organizational capabilities to adequately integrate people with disabilities into their communities and promote their human rights.

Ocsana received basic capacity training on governance, management, outreach tools and advocacy. The trainings allowed the organization to enhance their work in assisting hundreds of people that  sought its assistance.

“If people with hearing and speaking impairments receive the right education and if there is a community-based awareness about these disabilities with the efforts to spread sign language, hearing and speaking impairments can be overcome,” Mariam Shogaa Aldeen, head of Ocsana said.

Aldeen said collaborating with Counterpart has opened up new doors for them to engage and network with other civil society organizations focused on providing assistance to the disabled community outside the capital.

She added that Ocsana is now a bridge between the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) and persons with hearing and speaking impairments. The NDC is a series of reconciliation talks in Yemen aimed at drafting a new constitution and preparing for a full democratic elections  upon conclusion of the NDC millstone.

With the lack of a national strategy focusing on the issue of disabled rights, Ocsana organized two workshops in Sana’a and Aden to gather persons with hearing and speaking impairments, other civil society organizations and activists to discuss recommendations to the NDC.

Some of the recommendations included the need for trained professionals and specialists, developing capabilities of hearing and speaking impairments from early age until higher education, promoting and incorporating sign language in all public facilities and assisting civil society organizations to network with other organizations.

Marwan Abdulrahman, one of the workshop participants, has been drawing since he was three. He hopes to open an exhibition with his paintings to “promote my work to prove to Yemen’s society that persons with hearing disabilities are talented and full of potential just like anyone else.”

The original version of the post was published on USAID’s blog in the Transforming Lives section.

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