An exciting new initiative has been started to put justice in the hands of one particular group. Of the many people groups living with disability in Mozambique, the deaf find themselves particularly isolated from the community and culture that surrounds them, often lacking anything more than basic communication skills with other people, including their own family members. In these circumstances, it is very difficult for them to acquire information, to learn the word of God, and to know and protect their own rights.
A young man called Rachid wants to change that. Rachid is the young pastor of Hope Church for the Deaf, and he is involved in ministering to groups of young people with various disabilities. Rachid conducts weekly church services for the deaf community in Beira, communicating Biblical messages to them using Mozambican sign language. He is also passionate about helping deaf young people to be more empowered within society, with a greater awareness of their own value and respect for themselves and each other as God’s creations, made in His own image. As a result, AMAC and Hope Church have recently joined together to provide a series of legal education seminars for the deaf community in Beira. The intention is for these young people to become aware of the law and that each of them has both fundamental rights and a loving God.
To begin, a discussion group was held so that AMAC could listen to the deaf, and understand their issues. Some of those mentioned included being used as cheap labour, being falsely accused of a crime, being sexually harassed and abused, conflicts within relationships and marriage, and being disinherited by family members. One man had been wrongfully accused of theft and was then held on remand, awaiting a trial. He languished in prison for 18 months because the court was unable to find an interpreter who could sign for him during the hearing. He was the sole breadwinner and during this time his family had no income, sliding further into poverty. Eventually he was released when Pastor Rachid and the Director for the local Deaf Association intervened on his behalf.
In September the first seminar was due, but it almost didn’t happen at all. The venue for the seminar had already been agreed. However, when it was learned that an NGO with international connections was coming, the price of using the venue rose from non-existent to exorbitant. Pastor Rachid openly told us that the venue’s owners wanted a slice of all the foreign money they imagined AMAC to have. However, Rachid was not deterred. He called around his friends and, the day before the seminar was scheduled, a church offered its building for free.
The seminar was a great success. An AMAC lawyer spoke on the subject of marriage and cohabitation and both Pastor Rachid and AMAC worker Felizarda communicated the information in sign. Some visual materials were used to aid understanding. In response the room soundlessly exploded in communication with a flurry of hand motions. One young man related how he visited his family in the village. Whilst there, another family offered their daughter to him in marriage and he accepted. She was only 14 years old and they separated shortly after marrying, but he had no idea that his marriage had not been legal until this seminar. Many others communicated that they had thought they were married, but now realised they were only cohabiting. There were so many questions and discussions that the session overran by hours. It was clear that these young people did not only lack basic knowledge on rights and the law, but also frequently fell into conflicts in which they inevitably suffered a power imbalance due to communication barriers. Through its legal aid programme AMAC may also be able to help when they come into conflict with other people and with the law, preventing them from being exploited and enabling them to achieve a fair outcome.
Collaboration between AMAC and Hope Church has the potential to transform lives within Beira’s deaf community. AMAC is in the process of organising further seminars and is also following up the issues brought in the first seminar. Hope Church has also been invited to lead AMAC’s monthly fellowship in October. Those of you who pray, please do so for the continuation of this work, that AMAC and Hope Church can help to place justice in the hands of the deaf young people of Beira and that in turn AMAC will grow in understanding of the lives of the people we seek to help.