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Sharing the life and legacy of Andrew Foster, the “Father of Deaf Education in Africa”

February 24, 2016
By Phil Dignan

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Andrew Foster, ’54 & H-’70, one of Gallaudet’s most revered graduates, spent much of his life working to empower deaf people in Africa with educational opportunities, leading to the establishment of over 30 schools for the deaf. Foster’s legacy lives on as many, including Gallaudet alumni who were influenced either directly or indirectly by Foster, continue to ensure that deaf students in Africa receive full educational opportunities.

Dr. Isaac Agboola, ’81 & G-’83, interim dean of the School of Business, Education, and Human Services, and Bunmi Aina, G-’96, director of Keeping the Promise: Equitable Outcomes for Students, a unit within the Office of Diversity and Equity for Students, were both beneficiaries of an education from a Christian Mission for the Deaf (CMD) school.

Agboola first met Foster in 1971 while attending the Ibadan Mission School for the Deaf (IMSD) in Nigeria. He also worked in Foster’s mission office in Ibadan as an administrative clerk, describing this as “inspiring” since he would sit two seats away from him. “The opportunity to attend his school enabled me to resume my education. It is highly unlikely that I would have achieved as much as I have if he had not established a mission school in Nigeria,” said Agboola.  

Aina remembers his meeting with Foster. “I was a boy of 10, just back in Nigeria from three years of school in Wisconsin; he stopped to visit my new school, Ibadan School for the Deaf (ISD), which had been set up by one of his former hearing teachers, Mrs. Adeline Oyesola,” explained Aina. I would say probably about 90 percent of the kids, who had previously been in Foster’s Ibadan Mission School for the Deaf (IMSD), massed around him as he alighted from his VW van. I saw this huge, charismatic man with a dazzling smile for everyone, eyes which shone like diamonds.”  

With Foster’s unquestionable historical significance to the deaf community, Agboola and Aina devote themselves to telling the fascinating story of, as Agboola refers to, “the life of a courageous, black deaf missionary, educator, mentor and advocate.”

Agboola has given presentations about Foster at eight different events, including conferences. Most recently, he presented at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C. on January 19, 2016. Aina gave his first presentation on Foster on February 25, 2016 at the University of Cincinnati, and plans to present at the 2017 National Black Deaf Advocates (NBDA) conference in Baltimore and the 2017 National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) at a venue to be determined. Aina also wrote the chapter, “Andrew Foster Touches Eternity: From Nigeria to Fiji,” for the book, It’s a Small World: International Deaf Spaces and Encounters.

Both believe that Foster’s story must be told often and his contributions and sacrifices remembered.

“[As] Socrates said, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ Dr. Foster’s accomplishments in life, and the hurdles he scaled occasioned by his race, clearly indicate that his life was worth examination; but it has, in my view, been underexamined,” said Aina.  

For information on Aina’s presentation on February 25, click here. To learn more about Andrew Foster, click here.

Updated March 8, 2016

24 February 2016
By Phil Dignan

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Phil Dignan

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