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The Deaf World: "Andrew Foster"
September 16, 2015
Thousands of deaf African children have been given the gift of education they would never have received except for the life of one man. Andrew Foster was able to revolutionize the deaf culture in Africa by creating schools to educate children in sign language so they could get a proper education. This was particularly difficult because of the many obstacles he had to overcome in order to be able to teach the deaf.
In June of 1925 Andrew Foster was born a normal and healthy boy. He grew up in Ensley Alabama. At the age of 11 he and his brother developed an illness and were left deaf. “Andrew and his brother both contracted Spinal Meningitis and became Deaf” (Casey, 2010). This didn’t seem to hinder Andrew in his endeavors to seek an education. Since Alabama had no race mixing at the time and didn’t educate colored children past sixth grade, “ … education for African Americans was limited only to sixth grade”(Gallaudet, 2014), it took him many years to find the classes necessary to graduate from high school. In 1951, he received his high school diploma, at the age of 26, by finishing a correspondence course. Drawn to a career in education, he knew he needed more education in order to help the African people, but he was turned down by numerous colleges due to his skin color. He attended the Alabama School for the Negro Deaf in Talladega. Later, Gallaudet University offered Andrew a full ride scholarship. He was the first ever black student admitted to Gallaudet, and he was also the first to graduate. In 1954 he was the first African American to graduate from Gallaudet College in Washington, DC. He was the first black man to earn a master’s degree from Eastern Michigan University. He then earned another master’s degree from Seattle Pacific Christian College.
Upon receiving his second master’s degree, Andrew finally felt he had enough education to accomplish his lifelong goal. As a young boy, the dream of going to Africa was inspired by missionaries from Jamaica who came to his Sunday school class and spoke about going to Africa and helping the people there. It was then Andrew Foster knew what he had to do. He felt it was his mission to bring education to deaf children (and adults) in Africa. However, his dream hit a snag. None of the missions in Africa would accept him because of his race. This inspired him to start his own mission in Ghana. In 1956 he founded the Christian Mission for the Deaf African. He started a school in Accra, Ghana, the first deaf school on the entire continent of Africa.
It was in Ghana where he helped students learn sign language. He became quite successful. Due to popular demand, Andrew’s services were being requested all over the continent. He soon made the decision to go back to the United States and earn money to have a permanent school in which to teach. A year or so later he was able to come back and build his school in Nigeria.
A few years later Andrew met a young woman, Berta, who would become his wife. She was German and also deaf. They married in 1961 and had 5 children, 4 boys and 1 girl. A short time later Berta developed what they thought was terminal cancer but the diagnosis seems to have been false because she recovered. Berta became weary of life in Africa and packed up the kids and moved back to America. Andrew chose to then split his time between his work and his family, “For much of his life he spent six months of the year in Africa establishing schools and the other six months in the United States raising money to support them” (Nicholas).
Sadly, Andrew was killed in a small plane crash, in 1987, while in route to Rwanda. Foster had accomplished his life goal to become a missionary in Africa. His imprint was not only left on the African Continent, “Andrew established 31 schools in 17 African countries”. It was also felt by the people; “Andrew Foster is to Africa what Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet is to the United States of America”.
Andrew Foster was a giant among men. He was amazing not only for his accomplishments, but for the difficulties he encountered in order to achieve what he did. Thousands of lives are better today because he never gave up. He never quit. He never lost sight of what he needed to do.
Casey. (2010, March, 18). Andrew Foster: The Gallaudet of Africa. If My Hands Could Speak… Blog at WorldPress.com. Retrieved. 16. September. 2015: https://ifmyhandscouldspeak.wordpress.com/2010/03/18/andrew-foster-the-gallaudet-of-africa/
Nicholas, Darrick. (2000-2013). Andrew Foster, “The Deaf Will Hear the Words of the Book. African American Registry. African American Registry. Retrieved. 16. September. 2015: < http://www.aaregistry.org/historic_events/view/andrew-foster-deaf-will-hear-words-book>
(May 2014). Andrew Foster. Gallaudet University. Copyright @ 2014 Gallaudet University. Retrieved. 16.September.2015. https://www.gallaudet.edu/150/celebrate/visionary-leaders/andrew-foster.html
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