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24.03.2021 stories FOCUS: Dede, the Blind Girl Who Watches Movies and Wants to Become a Journalist

Published 24th Mar, 2021

By Damilola Ayeni

She lost her sight after a Corneal Transplant Went South in Accra


The lady on the other end of the phone was Jennifer Dede.

She was speaking from Odorton Village in the Eastern Region of Ghana. “Hello, please.” Her voice fostered warmth and happiness.

She would tell her story for almost an hour. Dede is the visually impaired lady whose cassava frying video went viral on Twitter recently. She goes to school and uses the computer well. She entertains her followers with songs and vibes on the social media. She also wants to be a pop star and journalist. But behind the dreams and strengths, she misses the sky and the moon; the plants and the chalets. She used to see all of them as a child.

Dede was six when a group of doctors arrived in Odorton for eye screening. Her mother had noticed an abnormality in her eyes since she was a baby and had tried to correct it. She had applied herbs to no avail. When the opticians arrived, she quickly took Dede to them. After exmination, they referred her to a specialist hospital, where she met a doctor who said one of the eyes was completely blind. The other one, he explained, needed cornea transplant to function well.

A BAD SURGERY WITH A ‘SPIRITUAL’ SIDE

Mary Ayongo, Dede’s aunt, had two German friends who were willing to sponsor the surgery. Mrs. Ayongo owns Ebbymay Foundation which organized the optical outreach in Odorton. A cornea was flown in from Switzerland and the stage was set for a transplant. Everyone was happy that a little girl would get better sight. Dede, at the time, saw well enough to go to school and write like every other pupil. But it would get dimmer soon.

At some point after the surgery, she could no longer tell if someone had a fair complexion. At another point she could not see colour blue. And then one day it got completely dark. Dede would tell me she couldn’t see anything at all, not even light. No one appreciates nature like those who used to see but can’t anymore. They feel the ray of the sun but never get to see its brightness. Dede’s aunt told FIJ that it was the doctor that did a bad job. He had discharged her on the same day of the surgery despite how hard she had cried through the procedure. The eye bled all night. The doctor, however, assured everyone the following morning that it would get better.

Dede still finds it difficult to understand what happened in the theatre. There was power interruption in the middle of the surgery — like PHCN in Nigeria, like ECG in Ghana. It was 2008, about seven years before John Mahama fixed Ghana’s epileptic power. The generator put to the rescue also went off by itself. Dede’s mother believes there is a spiritual side to the whole thing. She told her daughter how even the doctor became confused and frustrated along the line.

Dede needed to start life all over. She had to enroll in a school for the blind where she would learn to braille.

“I accepted my challenge because there was nothing I could do. There are things in me that are bigger than my sight,” she tells FIJ.

On social media, Dede has dedicated followers who watch her show off as if in a pageant. She shows off strength and courage through songs and words.

“I’m a queen of my own world,” she says.

‘YOU CAN’T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT’

The Twitter video of a blind girl frying cassava flour was meant for TikTok. Dede was supposed to resume school on Wednesday, March 3, but she stayed back for lack of money. Her sick mum had asked her to make garri so they could sell and get some money.

The video was Dede saying “You can’t always get all you want’’. She had wanted to be in school so badly. It is there that she meets people and forgets about the darkness that has become her vision.

DEDE HAS ‘A FATHER BUT NOT A DAD’

Like many other members of the family, Dede’s father thinks she is good-for-nothing. He lives faraway from home and does not contribute to her upkeep and education.

“I think I have a father, but not a Dad,” Dede tells me. “It doesn’t seem to matter to him that I’m his first child.”

Dede’s education and upkeep have been on her mother, Mrs. Ayongo and her two German friends. The Germans got her a computer on which she watched movies by listening to voices.

After 10 years in the school for the blind, Dede proceeded to Okwapeman Senior high School in 2019. At Okwapeman, blind students get more time to write their notes and in an exam, but the feeling is not exactly the same. Where she came from, teachers were specially trained to cater to the visually impaired. But out of about 4,000 students in Okwapeman, only around 100 have sight challenge. It isn’t a school for the blind. There’s hardly any senior secondary school for the blind in the whole of Ghana.

Dede and her likes use slate and stylus to braille when others write with pen and paper. Brailling is slower and makes noise. The only alternative is JAWS, a software that lets the visually impaired read the computer screen and write. Dede used JAWS until her PC got damaged.

To study, Dede finds someone to read while she listens. She chose literature in pursuance of her journalism dream. She also wants to speak good English and write novel. She’s currently writing a story which explores romance between a rich young man and a poor and unschooled lady.

Evening in Lagos looked different as Dede spoke, the yellow bulbs on the streets resembling the stars that we see but never appreciate. She sang Forever Young, a 1984 song by the German pop band Alphaville.

“It’s so hard to get old without a cause. I don’t want to perish like a fading horse. Youths like diamond in the sun. And diamonds are forever…”

Independent, public-interest journalism has never been more vital than in times like this when truth is constantly being suppressed. With your support, it will be easier for us to continue speaking truth to power and preserving your right to know.

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Published 24th Mar, 2021

By Damilola Ayeni

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