Help & Advice12th July 2014
Wonderful dad ensures Deaf Friendly activities for his daughter
Andre Ferguson launches Meaka Bears to fill the gap in local deaf services
Driving home one evening, Andre Ferguson from Southwark in London was trying to attract the attention of his beautiful one year old daughter who seemed to be miles away in her own little world. Seeing her happy and smiling, Andre should have felt contentment but he did not. “When I realised she was deaf, driving her home that evening, it broke my heart,” Andre said with sadness. “I knew she couldn’t hear at that point but I was still holding on to the hope that when we went to surgery something would change. When the doctor told me that she had bilateral sensory neural loss, I was devastated. From that point, I didn’t eat or sleep really for a month as I was just looking for answers to all the questions I had.”
Of course Andre is not alone. For all hearing parents, the news that a son or daughter is deaf is usually devastating. When the news had sunk in, my own parents started to worry about my life opportunities, simple things like, how will they communicate with me, how I would be educated, form relationships and have a family of my own. These concerns are understandable and common place and the negative thinking around deafness stems from a lack of knowledge and the lack of successful deaf role models in the public arena. I would like to say my parent’s fears and concerns were unfounded, but with communication being one of the most essential aspects of life, many of their concerns turned into my real life experiences particularly through school and during the early years of employment.
When a parent learns that their child is deaf, they want to do the best they can for them. Andre is no exception. Keen to ensure his daughter was able to enjoy the same experiences and activities as other children, Andre started looking around his local area for advice and guidance as well as deaf friendly venues. Like many parents of a Deaf child he was disappointed to learn just how little there was out there for him or for his daughter. Adamant that he would not allow his daughter to miss out, Andre started thinking about what he could do to support her and he came up with the idea of Meaka Bears.
“I was struggling to find a place where my daughter could go to learn, socialise, develop and take part in activities safely and with people that understood her needs,” Andre explained. “Not being able to find such a place, I decided to start the Meaka Bears deaf support group.”
What Andre was looking for, was a place where his daughter could go that was both Deaf Friendly and Deaf Aware. With so few venues ticking either, let alone both boxes across the UK, I was delighted to learn about Andre’s ambitions to develop those opportunities and the development of Meaka Bears that has stemmed from his determination and the support of some caring, like-minded people.
Planned and launched successfully, Andre has steered the development of Meaka Bears so that it is now well established and providing a service to 90 deaf children and young people. Meaka Bears is now an independent community based charity making use of local facilities to host group activities such as swimming lessons and Yoga classes for deaf children and their non-deaf siblings but it also helps the families of deaf children access local services. I was keen to find out where the name came from. “The name Meaka Bear comes from my daughters name,” Andre explained. “Her middle name is Maleika so for short I call her (Meaka) and at the time of her hearing loss. her favourite toy was a bear. So when she was diagnosed and I started the company, I put the two together to make Meaka Bears.”
Meaka Bears now seeks to create a better quality of life, social inclusion and extracurricular activity for deaf children. Most importantly, Meaka Bears open their activities to deaf children and to their brothers, sisters and friends so that they can enjoy activities together. The activities are delivered by specialist teachers who use their experience and communication skills to guide all of the children taking part in the activity. In this way deaf children can participate and compete without deafness being an issue.
Andre also believes parents benefit from attending the activities, chatting to other parents as they watch the activity, sharing their experiences, fears, frustrations and ambitions. Importantly, hearing parents new to the group learn more about what is possible for their deaf child and that perhaps they had placed too limited an ambition for their son or daughter.
Andre is keen to develop Meaka Bears further, adding further activities for the youngsters, as well as extending its reach beyond the Southwark area. He is keen to point that whilst the activities are an outcome in their own right, the greater benefit comes from youngsters developing their confidence, self worth, good health and friendships. “Ultimately, we want to give deaf children as many opportunities as possible to maximize their potential,” Andre told me.
To learn more about Meaka Bears or to make contact with the intention of joining, visit their website at http://www.meakabears.org
Article by Sarah Lawrence
posted in Community / Help & Advice
12th July 2014