By Zoneziwoh Mbondgulo, Cameroon correspondent for Safeworld.
This is the story of a 16-year-old girl who has always been passionate about education. At the age of three, she became deaf. And two years later, she lost her father.
“My name is Odilia Nwefu. I became deaf when I was very small,” said the young graduate in her speech, speaking as the overall best candidate for the 5th edition of Buea School for the Deaf (BSD) graduation ceremony, Friday, June 8, 2012. Her theme: To Be the Best.
Ms. Nwefu is the fourth child and the third girl in a family of five. She hails from Ikata, a village within the southwest region of Cameroon but she is of northwest origin.
Since 2005, Nwefu said: “I have been a student at BSD. I hope to continue to college and in future, become a teacher.”
Though Nwefu’s speech was interpreted to us gathered at the ceremony, her gestures alone were very clear: that she is eager to change the stereotype society has towards the deaf. She wants equality and the opportunity to work and support her families – and show people that deaf people can do anything, the same as hearing people.
“I remember Mr. Teke would come many times to encourage my mother to send me to school. I saw my other friends from Ikata who were already in school. I bothered my mother much to send me to school. I remember my mother and I went to visit Mr. and Mrs. Bibum in Muyuka to arrange for me to start at BSD. I was only a small girl. I remember being very happy to put on my yellow and blue uniform for the first time,” Nwefu recalls.
Speaking to Nwefu’s mother, Loveline Nfafa, a farmer in Ikata, she says “Odilia had always been determined to study, no matter what.”
For the first two years, Loveline says she could not afford Nwefu’s fee (around 150 US dollars per year). Thanks to the kindest hearts of the BSD authorities – especially the proprietor and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Bibum, who encouraged her through – and at one time they allowed her to substitute the fees with foodstuffs like plantains, vegetables, fruits and other farm produce, Nwefu was able to study.
Now, she says, “I still pay Odilia’s fees in several installments...
I am ready to walk bare feet. I will sacrifice all that I own just so Odilia gets the best education,” Loveline added, speaking with much emotion.
“At BSD, my teachers taught me well. I have tried hard to learn everything that they taught me. Sometimes it was difficult, but we all continued to do our best.
Mr. Director, we thank you for all that you and your staff have done for us. We will try very hard to make you proud of us. We especially want to thank Mrs. Margaret Biboum, Mrs. Patience Ngie, Mrs Vastina Neyeh, and Mr Paul N’doka for helping us prepare for the first school leaving certificate examination. We pray that we will all pass well.
We want to thank our families for supporting us in school. I especially want to thank my mother for always helping me. She always made sure I have everything I need for school. Mama, Thank you!
We also thank our school friends who are here today to see us graduate. My classmates and I are very proud to be here today. We are happy to see many visitors who have come to wish us well. We hope to continue our education at BSD....
Wherever we go, we will never forget our school – the Buea School for the Deaf.
Again, we say thank you to Mr Aloysius N’jok Bibum, the Director of BSD. He is like a father to us. He wants to help us make our dreams come true. He is very strict and always wants us to work hard, but also likes to make us laugh.”
Nwefu, in her conclusion, looked at the audience; she raised her right hand closer to her lips and kissed it, and then placed it to the left side of her chest, a deaf salute which means “thank you!”
Nwefu, my little heroine. She inspires.
WFAC Buea works to promote the empowerment of women in creating a caring community cutting across the gender barriers and constraints.