Samira Mohamed: What it’s like to be a Deaf volunteer in the Philippines

Posted on July 17, 2013

I was so nervous the day before my departure to the Philippines with eight other Deaf UK volunteers.

I couldn’t sleep, because I had mixed feelings. Spending the whole summer in Philippines is such an amazing opportunity but I find the idea of leaving my family behind so hard.

It was even harder to say goodbye to them. I held myself in, and forced myself not to cry too much. As always, my mum gave me a lecture on ‘being safe’ and ‘being strong.’ It hit me in the airport that I was actually leaving my life behind for the summer.

It was a long flight. I was exhausted but I couldn’t sleep.

I arrived and soon had a training week with Deaf Filipinos before moving in with the host family along with Maureen, one of the Deaf Filipino females, for three months.

Me and Maureen!

Me and Maureen!

I am sharing a room with Maureen. We get on well, and she taught me Filipino Sign Language. Then later on, I realised Maureen was teaching me American Sign Language (ASL), because she doesn’t know a lot of Filipino Sign language (FSL)!

My bed on the floor!

My bed on the floor!

Here, more Deaf people use ASL. Maureen was taught in ASL becuase of their history with America. Deaf people here in Cebu are now determined to have their own sign language back. We are now learning FSL together.

The street where I am staying

The street where I am staying

I have learnt so much from her. We both see things differently. She told me that her father works as a dentist and her mother works for the government, but she still calls herself ‘poor.’

I know in UK the money would be good enough to survive on. She keeps saying ‘the money here is no good’ and I spoke to my host family – some of the siblings have gone abroad to earn money for the family.

I live in a house with a mother, her three daughters, their husbands and the kids. I lost count of how many people live in one house. They value their families here. It has been interesting to see different perspectives and culture. Filipinos love their meat and I eat rice literally every day. At first I was sick of it but now I’m used to it. Just like I learn how to handwash my clothes (my mum must be so proud of me!).

Me with the other volunteers (Maureen is on the floor)

Me with the other volunteers (Maureen is on the floor)

Every day I have been told about Deaf people being sexually abused or being treated badly. The Philippines have a high percentage of Deaf people who have been abused, it’s too emotional to listen to sometimes, and I find it too hard to take it in.

I visited a place for women only to live in becuase they are not ready to be independent. I met a young Deaf girl who couldn’t sign but is able to gesture. When I saw her I got goosebumps. It impacts upon me, and makes me feel like I’m useless.

The organisation Gualandi Volunteer Service Programme (GVSP) has so brilliant, because of it more Deaf people have come forward and GVSP helps them physically and mentally. It’s a massive credit to them.

So far my time in Philippines has been brilliant. It is a different world to U.K and it is very hot here. I expect cold weather when I return to the U.K, and I have to admit, I miss the fresh air!

Samira Mohammed is a BSL user, and is currently studying Film and Photography at university. Follow her on Twitter as @_MissSamira

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