Mother uses education to open doors for hearing-impaired sons

Margaret Williams is no ordinary mother. While some mothers may have found raising five hearing-impaired sons a challenge, she was determined to overcome it and do everything in her power to ensure that they received their education.

Phillip and Margaret Williams with Walton (centre) and Jeremiah

Margaret and her husband Philip, of 72 Miles, Bartica, are parents to nine children, five of whom are deaf and mute. Rather than being besieged by the potential challenges that would arise, the couple made the decision that they would overcome all obstacles that lay in their path. In particular, Margaret chose not to focus on her children’s impairment and the perception that they would not be able to live “normal lives.” Instead, with the knowledge of their ability to learn, she insisted on sending her boys to school.

Margaret recalled that when she took the second child born to her, Rixon, home from the hospital, nothing seemed amiss. It was at eight months, when most babies respond to sounds that she noticed that he was not responding. She never took any steps to confirm her suspicions until Rixon was three-years-old, when she took him to have an audiology test done at the David Rose School for the Handicapped. It was then that his status was confirmed. This turned out to be the case for her next four sons, whose non-responsiveness to sounds preceded the official diagnoses. “I could remember a nurse saying that it could have been in the genes,” she said, although to date no definitive reason has been given for why her sons are deaf. There is no history of such occurrences in their family.

Margaret decided that she would not allow Rixon’s disability to prevent him from learning and enrolled him in the 72 Miles Nursery School. Since he was able to adapt and learn, he also pursued his primary and secondary education at the school. The same would be the case with his brothers, Cleveland, James, Jeremiah and Walton. Margaret said teaching the children was difficult for some teachers, though others exercised patience with them. “I still sent them no matter what. They had to go to school, they must learn something,” she said, adding that it “was not easy financially but I insisted that they had to attend school.”

A painting by Rixon Williams

Margaret is a housewife and Philip does various jobs to provide for his family. She is of Patamona ancestry with her family hailing from the Pakaraimas. Margaret was keen to note that she has not lost touch with her ancestry since she still plants cassava on her farm and she makes cassava bread and its other by-products.

Cleveland and James attended the David Rose School in Georgetown, while in the care of their relatives. When the family moved to Bartica, Jeremiah attended the Two Miles Primary School before entering the David Rose School as well. Walton, the youngest son, now attends the school. “I tried with my children to ensure that they could read or write their names,” Margaret said. While there were difficult periods, she never gave up. The biggest problem was communication between Margaret and her sons. While they know sign language, she does not and so they would resort to reading her lips, in order to understand her. She said when they were younger, it was more difficult because they could not understand what she was saying and neither could she understand them. This resulted in some amount of frustration between them.

Margaret Williams’ five sons with a teacher. Standing at back, left, Rixon and Cleveland (right) and in the front row, from left, Jeremiah, Walton and James

Today, Margaret is proud of her sons and their achievements since they have been able to succeed in spite of their circumstances. Rixon attended and graduated from the Burrowes School of Art and is now an artist who paints signs in Bartica. His brother Cleveland attended the Open Doors Centre where he received certification in joinery/carpentry. Seventeen-year-old Jeremiah will be attending the Guyana Industrial Training Centre next year to pursue studies in auto repair and electrical installation.

To parents who may find themselves in a similar situation, Margaret advises that they educate their children. “Their education is the most important tool that you can equip children with, since it is through this means that they would be able to provide financially for themselves,” she said. She also noted that “Children must know that their disability is not a barrier and that they can achieve any goal once given the encouragement.”