Florence came to Goodwill® in April of 2019 as a part of the Community Program, and her story is an especially unique one. Born and raised in Uganda, Florence moved to the States 7 years ago, having to leave her 4 grown kids behind. Something important to know about Florence is she is profoundly deaf, and here on political asylum. Being young and disabled in a country where children are only educated until about 3rd grade was very tough for Florence. Not only was she disabled, but she is also a female, which in Uganda, is a challenge in and of itself. Slavery still exists in the country, and gaining an income is very difficult. She often talked about how at times she had to go without food in order to feed her children.
Florence signing the lease to her very first apartment
Florence was born with her hearing, but when she was 4, she got an attack of severe meningitis which left her in a hospital bed for 6 months. It was during that time that she became profoundly deaf. Life growing up in Uganda, Florence states, “was like living in fear and uncertainty”—but, growing up as a hearing-impaired child was ever harder. Not only was it difficult for herself, but also for her mother. Communication was tough—her mother sometimes struggled to even live with her. Because there were no other deaf people in any of the villages, her home was nicknamed “a family with a cursed daughter”, and she was laughed at and ridiculed for being deaf. As she got a little older, Florence eventually taught herself how to [somewhat] read and write, and when that was noticed by a local schoolteacher, he suggested she start attending elementary school. She did eventually start school but faced many challenges along the way. Despite those challenges, the little she gained in the beginning was well worth it. She learned simple things like her vowels, the alphabet, and then started writing numbers – and she knew that that alone, was enough.
Despite the hardships she faced as a young child, she has gotten the opportunity to travel the world. In her younger years, she traveled to Kenya, where she was sent to learn in a Deaf Elementary Catholic Mission School. She has also been to Denmark with 3 others who were also deaf – where they were all selected to go on a study tour for seven and a half months to learn what the deaf people in Denmark are doing with their deaf associations. They later then visited Norway and Germany. Once she resigned her work with UNAD (Uganda National Association of the Deaf) in Kampala after working with it for 5 years, Florence joined the Deaf Mission International. While she was there, she attended International Christian Conferences in Egypt.
Faced with a life or death decision, Florence left her family and moved to the U.S. in 2013. When she first arrived to America, she spent some time in New York with what she called “her mistress”, who provided her work in their home, because she did not have a work permit yet. During that time her Mistress taught ASL at a local college, and Florence would sit in on some of the lectures. She eventually ended up in Ohio a few years later and was set up with live with a family in Dalton. She got connected with Catholic Charities in Cleveland, where she was able to get her work permit and get a job at Dutch Kitchen in Dalton, while also volunteering at MCC in Kidron. She had been working to get her GED with Aspire - an adult workforce program at the Wayne County Schools Career Center, and they referred to her Goodwill in 2019. There, she took computer and RSW training courses and continued to work on her GED. Moving to the U.S. made Florence feel strange at first, with many frustrations. She had to learn to completely change and adapt to a new way of life. And while it's been a lot of learning and she has faced many challenges, she is finally starting to feel at home.
The COVID-19 shutdown has been particularly interesting for Florence. Although she was layed off of her job at Dutch Kitchen, she was able to file for unemployment and get herself back on her feet financially. She was able to save enough money to pay off some debt and save up to establish herself in her own apartment in Wooster. As of July 13th, she has officially signed the lease for her apartment, and moved in on July 20th! GO FLORENCE!
There are two things that Florence is incredibly passionate about: one being, her faith. It is a big part of who she is, and she wants people to know that. It’s why she has come so far and managed to not give up. And two, those who are hearing impaired. Florence is constantly advocating for others with hearing impairments. She likes to educate those who CAN hear about the challenges faced by individuals who can’t. Her Goodwill Case Manager Jennifer Lake says she is a great example of how well Florence is doing on educating others. "I have learned a great deal while working with Florence, and she has been one of the major contributors to my growth as a Case Manager in the last year". While Florence still has a lot to accomplish (GED, drivers license, college), her ultimate goal in life is to be a part of, what she calls, “Community Developing”. She isn’t sure of the exact career she wants for herself, but she is sure she wants to help others. Whether that be Social Work, Deaf Services, or anything in between, we know without a doubt she is going to flourish.
Despite her disability, Florence never gave up on living her life and trying to make it better. With the help of Goodwill's program and her wonderful Case Manager, Jennifer - who has helped her overcome any obstacle that has come her way - as well as her hard work and determination, she has accomplished so much. She is currently learning American Sign Language (because Uganda Sign Language is quite different), Aspire is helping her attain her GED, and Catholic Charities is assisting her with the immigration process! In the last year, she has done so many things that often times someone would give up on – but not Florence. She is persistent and determined, and she says her faith is the reason she has such strength.