In Summary

NEW STUFF. Help a child cope with an environment from which they can adapt a new language, writes JOSEPH KATO.

John* (not real name), a resident of Goma Division in Mukono District recently was told to take on his nine-year-old daughter he fathered from his high school girlfriend. John had initially disregarded the ex-lover story but he received another call warning him to pick the girl or be dragged to police for child negligence.

“You should come and pick your daughter. You sired a girl with my sister and if you want to have peace, come and take your daughter. You should start from where we have stopped to look after her,” John remembers a man, who introduced himself as a brother of his ex-girlfriend, saying.

He travelled to Bunyoro and met the ex-girlfriend in the presence of police officers. He explained that he had never been told about his daughter and the ex-lover admitted that she had been raising the girl without John’s knowledge but her new marriage was on the verge of ending because of the child. John finds it difficult to communicate with his daughter who only speaks Runyoro and does not know English.

“Sometimes she cries and when I try to ask what could be wrong with her, she nods or keeps quiet. She was in school but she can’t speak English and I don’t speak Runyoro. I find it difficult to engage her. I would love to listen to her stories,” John says.

John adds that he does not know what the child eats or does not. His wife recently prepared beef and Matooke but they saw tears rolling from the girl’s eyes and he guessed she could be allergic to beef. To make matters worse, the contact of the girl’s mother has been off ever since he picked the child.

“I went with the girl to my friend who speaks Runyoro and she asked her to explain things she does not eat. She mentioned beef, chicken, fish and rice. To my surprise, at school where I have enrolled her she has been served rice and beef twice and she did not have any problem. In fact I visited the school and found her eating the same food,” John says.

Friends intervene
Berna Nalwanga Nakku, a child counsellor, says settling with strangers is never easy and it is more challenging when it involves language barrier.
Nakku says in situations like John’s, “you should get a person who understands the child’s language so that he can teach her the basics for at least a week.”

She believes if John can ask his friend who knows Runyoro to teach him some words, it would make his daughter feel that she has someone to communicate with at home.
“It is easier to learn a new language as long as it is the only option. However, for one to learn the new language fast, they should learn its basics such as greeting, asking for food, thanking and calling a person,” she advises.

Teach them in bits
Herbert Kwizera, a family counsellor, says nothing worries a new member in a family such as speaking a language he or she does not understand. He says every time people are speaking you wonder whether they are planning to harm you or they are backbiting you.

Nevertheless, Kwizera says it is always important for family members to create an environment that makes the newcomer comfortable.
“Try as much as possible to make that person part of the conversations. Ensure you teach them family practices such as greeting. Engage her in your activities to give her confidence to participate and would enable her learn the language fast,” Kwizera reasons.

Nakku says consulting the new member’s former family would help one understand her life.
For instance, what she likes, dislikes, health conditions and entire emotional state.
“Don’t do anything that depicts a sense of discrimination. Try to understand when she remains silent and be creative to make her feel a sense of belonging as opposed to feeling isolated,” Nakku adds.

Orient them
Kwizera elaborates that family heads should often spare time to have a one- on-one talk with newcomers and if there is language difference, invite a friend to be with you as you go outing purposely to explain what life is like for a new person. Let that person who understands the language try to extract stories from that person since they could give you a picture of past life. When the newcomer does something wrong, respond with ease.