Born deaf in a remote area of Uganda without any schools or resources for deaf children, 15-year-old Patrick Otema had never had a conversation in his life. He could follow simple commands from his father, but was unable to express his thoughts, feelings, or ideas. When he wasn’t doing chores, he spent his days in silence and isolation, wary of interaction with the people around him.
Raymond Okkelo, a sign language teacher who lost his hearing after a bout of malaria, hoped to offer Patrick a way out of the fearful silence he had known his whole life. In this touching video, titled Patrick Speaks, reporter Kiki King and director Daniel Bogado follow the work of inspirational sign language teachers like Okkelo, who opened up the first school for deaf people in the area. On the first day of class, Patrick trailed in, hesitant and subdued as always. Gradually, however, a visible change took place–as Patrick watched Okkelo use his hands to form signs and communicate, a smile broke out across the boy’s face, radiant with astonishment and joy. With his father beaming with pride several rows behind him, Patrick started to follow Okkelo’s lead and make signs of his own. After 15 years of silence, Patrick was finally speaking. Transformed completely, he could embark on a new chapter of his life with the nickname “Smile,” given to him by his classmates.
According to Bogado, Patrick is still enrolled and excelling in his sign language class. The filmmaker says, “We only followed this particular class for one day. But we did go to other schools and the conversation skills of deaf children after being there only a month or two are pretty spectacular. It’s like they have been thirsting for a way to communicate their whole lives and when it’s presented for them they embrace it with a passion–it really opens up their personalities as well, from shy and withdrawn, to smiling and full of confidence–it’s something truly moving and humbling to witness.”
The heartwarming video comes from a longer, 30-minute documentary by Bogado. Titled 15 and Learning to Speak, the film will premiere worldwide on November 22 on Unreported World’s YouTube Channel.