“The people in the big churches do not care about the deaf people. They think we are needy and we should be given handouts. When you go there, they talk about how they can collect donations for deaf people. I don’t feel God there,” says Akosua.
Akosua is a middle-aged woman. She has been having hearing impairment all her life. Ten years ago, she left Suhum, her hometown, to come and live in Accra.
She attended a mainstream church that had an interpreter but had to stop because she didn’t like it.
“Sometimes, I would be sitting in the church, and all I would be doing is nodding my head,” she says.
In Ghana, going to church is a big deal. For a country where more than 70 per cent profess to be Christian, a moment to commune with God is one that no one jokes with.
It is not hard to find a church in Ghana. One estimate revealed approximately 10 churches per square kilometre in Accra. But for deaf people like Akosua, finding a church is an entire job.
Last year, she found one of the very few churches for the deaf in Kokomlemle, where she lives. Unfortunately, soon after she joined, the school in which they worshipped threw them out, and now she walks from Kokomlemle to Abossey Okai- a journey of over 45 minutes – where the church has now been moved to.
I went with Akosua one Sunday to her new church. Pastor Kwevi Israel, a 50-year-old man, runs the Deaf Generation Chosen Ministry.
He is a pastor and says God has given him a gift to lead people with hearing impairment to heaven. He is the sign language interpreter and can speak too. He is the one who helped me interpret what Akosua wants to say.
“Those with hearing impairment are treated as non-humans. Even among the disability community, they are looked down on. Because they look normal, everyone thinks they are normal and does not think they deserve any special treatment. As a result, they are suffering,” he said.
There are 500,000 deaf people in Ghana, according to the country’s last population and housing census organised in 2021.
“Disability Inclusion allows accessibility so that everyone can fully participate in society without barriers to achieve their goals, desires to thrive in life.,” says Kakra …who works with the Ghana Association for the Deaf (GNFD). The Association is now campaigning to have sign language officially accepted in Ghana.
“Allowing Persons with Disability to participate in society by ensuring access to facilities like assertive technologies, Sign Language interpreters, live transcriptions that are more accessible to PWDs are key,” he says.
The challenges that deaf people face in finding a place to worship are the tip of the iceberg and show a much bigger problem. Sign language is not officially recognised in Ghana.
As a result, key services are run without personnel not knowing how to communicate to deaf people. For example, hospitals do not have doctors or nurses who understand sign language; many schools do not have teachers and educationists who can understand sign language.
It is situations like this that worry people like Akosua.
“Sometimes I feel that we are not part of the country,” she says. However, her views are shared by many of her friends in the church.
The church structure is made with plywood and sandwiched in between many tin shacks. The area in which it is located – Zongo Junction- is right by Abossey Okai, one of Ghana’s vehicle spare parts enclaves.
“We have 80 deaf people in this church. When we were sacked from the Kokomlemle school, we did not have anywhere to go, and our founder moved us here, which is his own property,” he tells me.
Worship inside a deaf church is pretty fascinating. Because the deaf cannot speak, they close their eyes, use sign language to say what they want and keep clapping to send their message across. Those who have partial speaking ability murmur out words, only they can understand. They pray, sing, dance and give their offertory in pure joy and bliss.
“We want to support each other in this church. We want to show other churches how to treat the hearing impairment community in the church. We want to show that it is not just alms that deaf people need, but they need quality time with God too,” says Clementina August, whose husband founded the church.
With the money they make in the church, they invest in outreaches in northern Ghana to help set up churches and schools for deaf people.
“All of that is being funded by these people. It is the little that they make from here that they can fund those projects,” Pastor Kwevi.
Deaf people are only a small part of Ghana’s physically challenged community. The issues they face with inclusivity today are only a stark reminder of how much more work needs to be done to make everyone feel a part of the bigger Ghanaian society.
“We want to belong. We want people to understand us, and we also want to understand people,” Akosua says.