Meet: Phillippa Merricks, globe-trotting superstar

Posted on March 30, 2012



I’m very excited to have the chance to interview a real globe-trotting superstar of the Deaf world, Miss Philippa Merricks! Obviously, we must start with the Random Question from our last victim:

Which came first: the limping chicken or the cracked egg?

That’s a tough one! Hmm, I grew up on a farm so I should think deeply about this one. I guess if the egg is cracked, then it would never turn into a chicken, so it’d have to be the egg which came first. But that doesn’t explain where the chicken limps in from!

Did you have chickens on your farm?

We did! Chickens and sheep.

Any limping ones?

Quite possibly! There’re a lot of them, and sadly they do sometimes hatch with deformed feet…

And then you… Oh. Actually, let’s move swiftly on… How the devil are you, Miss Merricks?

I’m fine, thanks. Tired! Work, university, volunteering; lots of things going on.

We shall need to hear about all of them. So, you grew up on a farm?

Yes, in Sussex. I was born Deaf, to Deaf parents and attended a mainstream school with a Deaf unit. It was a positive learning experience but socially I did feel I missed out. Later, when I went to Deaf school and University, I realised just how much I hadn’t been involved with. The farm was an hour’s drive away, so I’d been spending my evenings at home and didn’t really see other Deaf children outside of school. Later that all changed!

Clearly it did, seeing as you are now this amazing, gregarious, jet-setting woman! How did you become interested in travel?

I participated in a World Federation of the Deaf Youth Section (WFDYS) Junior camp for 13 to 17 years old in 200, in Portugal. This camp is for Deaf children from all over the world, and for me it was just such an eye-opening experience. I saw International Sign Language, a new culture, a new way of life; it was all so different to everything I’d known before and it just appealed to me massively on every level. I knew straight away it was going to be the first of many experiences in other countries. The world is there for exploring!

Personally, and regretfully, I’ve not been to very many exciting places. Is it something you think everyone should try?

Everyone should try it, but that doesn’t mean everyone will like it. When I went to India for three months it was too short! I loved it! But another person I know, who is hearing, went and she hated it; she said she couldn’t cope with the wildly different way of life. I think partly it’s being able to jump into the Deaf community there; there’s this common bond between Deaf people the world over which hearing people don’t seem to have. It lets us see the heart of the communities and really embrace the culture. Being very open-minded always helps, too!

Although you are often to be found having adventures somewhere exciting, you actually live in Preston now. What prompted your move from sunny Sussex farm life?

I moved to Preston for University, and basically I’ve stayed on! I am studying BA combined hons. Deaf Studies and Education part time, which will finish at the end of April, but I’ll still be sticking around! There’s a lot going on here, and also I work for Deafway, who are based here.

What is your job at Deafway?

My role at Deafway is called ‘Animateur’. Basically it means we are trying to ‘breathe life’ into the Deaf community. We have particular focus on developing International Deaf Art, Culture and Heritage areas. I love my job as I get to work in an area that is so close to my heart anyway! I also do volunteer work for European Union of the Deaf Youth. You can find out more about them by following the link here -: http://www.eudy.info/

Sounds perfect for you! Can you tell us about some more about your Community Challenge work?

Community­ Challenge is a bit of a twist on the usual trekking sponsorship schemes. Normally, British people will get sponsorship to travel to another country, trek through their mountains then return home and give the funds to a British cause. That’s still great, but it can seem a bit like using the country for their mountains; what’s the benefit to them? So, with Community Challenge, we want to send people out to Nepal to live in the community and see for themselves the different culture and way of life. This means they can appreciate for themselves the difference that we can make in these areas, as well as experiencing a new country. And all the profits will go towards our projects in Nepal, so the people there benefit as well.

Sounds like it would also be a good social activity?

Hopefully it will encourage Deaf people to travel who might never normally have the confidence or support to go. It can be daunting to think of traveling to other countries, particularly if you don’t have a group of friends to go with, so the Community Challenge provides the support and a network of Deaf people in the same situation. I’d like to think the connections and friendships created will make a big impact on the lives of everyone involved. And we are all Deaf, so there are no interpreters or miscommunications going on!

You’ve seen first hand the difference that a little money or charitable aid can make in these areas?

Yes and its surprising how little is really needed, compared to here in Britain. Our current Deafway appeal, ‘1000 Friends for Maria’ aimed to raise £60,000 to fund and support St. Anthony’s school in Uganda, using fund matching. The school receives no Government funding, but only requires this £60,000 to be fully equipped and supported for two years. For Britain, this is really a very small amount to run a school, but in Uganda this will transform the children’s lives. We can also use the two year period to gather evidence showing the improvement and success of the school, which we can use to gain further funding in the future.

Raising £60,000 is no mean feat though!

We had to raise the final £10,000 before 31st March and have literally just passed that, so huge thanks to everyone who has helped us achieve that milestone. However, every little helps and if anyone is interested in donating or finding out more they can look at the page on our site http://www.deafway.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=640

It will all go towards keeping the school running after the 2 year period has finished.

So, what will be your next big adventure?

Funny you should ask as, having just got back from Finland at the weekend, I am jetting off to Greece tomorrow!

Well, I’m not jealous in the slightest… Thanks so much for talking to us, Philippa, it’s been truly lovely. All that remains, as ever, is to ask you for your Random Question, please…?

Would you eat a chicken leg… With toes and nails still on?

By Emily Howlett

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