Release date
May 09, 2007

Teaching Deaf Students About Health

May 09, 2007, —

Where the risk for HIV infection is high, education is essential. This is particularly true for young people with disabilities, who, in many parts of the world, face serious obstacles to obtaining an education, let alone getting information about healthy living.

Boys from the Nzeve Deaf Children's Center

Young people at the Nzeve Center helped adapt the Auntie Stella materials to meet their unique needs.

In response to this need, CRS is supporting a creative program for the deaf in eastern Zimbabwe to build HIV awareness among students.

The Nzeve Deaf Children's Center operates a school for the deaf, trains teachers and offers vocational training for deaf youth. With the help of CRS, the school also has adapted a Zimbabwean reproductive health program, called Auntie Stella, to better meet the needs of 13- to 17-year-olds who are deaf. Auntie Stella is a collection of comic books and activity cards that teachers use to start discussions among young Zimbabweans on life and relationships. It was produced by the Training and Research Support Centre.

Nzeve's efforts to adapt these materials for their students is a model for organizations that support reproductive education for young people, especially children living with disabilities. In 2006, CRS Zimbabwe trained all of its community partners that work with orphans and other vulnerable children on how to use the Auntie Stella program.

"Auntie Stella is an excellent program, but we quickly realized that the materials were not always user-friendly for deaf children and did not address some of their specific vulnerabilities," says Libby Foster, Nzeve's director. "That's why we embarked on a project to adapt the materials for our children."

Nzeve used a process that embraced student participation to adapt Auntie Stella. It began by gathering student feedback on what aspects of the materials were confusing to them or could be improved. For example, students told teachers about specific words that were difficult to express in sign language, said that illustrations helped them grasp content more quickly, and suggested that the activities use deaf characters in their examples, role plays and scenarios.

'Being Included'

After incorporating their suggestions, Nzeve brought the revised materials back to the students for a second round of feedback. This step was important because the students could see that their past suggestions had been incorporated, which gave them a sense of ownership over the document and encouraged them to share even more ideas and recommendations.

Auntie Stella materials

Auntie Stella activities encourage young people to talk about life and relationships.

"I feel I am part of the project because I see what I have said being included in the booklet," says one student. Another student adds, "I am happy because the situation at home is in one of the booklets."

The development process also gave the children the opportunity to review education topics several times for maximum retention. In this way, students shape their own education while creating materials that meet their needs, that are easy to use and that reflect the situations they face.

When asked why it is important to adapt this kind of material for deaf youth, one student says, "Otherwise, some things that are important for us may be left out."

What's next? CRS and Nzeve have plans to share their adapted materials more broadly among the deaf population in Zimbabwe.

Nzeve is a community-based partner of Catholic Relief Services in Zimbabwe, and it receives support from CRS Zimbabwe's STRIVE project for orphans and other vulnerable children.

For more information on the Training and Research Support Centre and Auntie Stella, please visit