This year the International Week of the Deaf (18-24 September) takes place around the theme ‘full inclusion with sign language’, and deaf organisations across the globe are calling for sign language to be recognised and used more widely.
As part of the celebrations Deaf Child Worldwide, the global development arm of the National Deaf Children’s Society, has shared a few stories from its projects in East Africa, Latin America and South Asia that illustrate the difference learning sign language has made to deaf children and young people.
Fima: With sign language, I can… go to school
South Asia | Bangladesh | Early Childhood Deafness
6-year-old Fima was born deaf but did not learn sign language until she was three years old, when DCW brought her to their Early Childhood Deafness (ECD) centre in Bangladesh. Her deafness was not formally diagnosed as Fima’s parents didn’t have the money to go to the doctor. The family saw her as a financial burden and the community feared her, believing disability to be punishment for wrongdoing in a past life, so Fima grew up very isolated.
ECD centres provide early intervention vital for deaf children to acquire language. Centres are funded and led by DCW partner organisations, not the government. Fima was initially wary of everyone at the ECD centre as she didn’t know how to communicate with them, but after a few months, she started to become more confident and play more with other children.
Two and a half years on, she can communicate in Bangla sign language with her family and friends – something many deaf children never manage to achieve.
Fima happily signs about her favourite foods, animals, vehicles etc. She can count in Bangla, English and sign language and can even write the numbers 1-30; her parents are illiterate and would not have been able to teach her this, so without the ECD centre she would never have accessed a proper education. This year she will start attending a nearby mainstream primary school.
Thanks to early intervention from experts at ECD centres across Bangladesh, the number of deaf children enrolling in primary school has doubled.
Frank: With sign language, I can… earn my own money
Latin America | Peru | Paz y Esperanza
Like many deaf young people in Latin America, Frank didn’t know how to read or write and had only learnt maths to a basic level, which wasn’t good enough to get a job. When he joined one of DCW’s deaf youth groups, he discovered Peruvian Sign Language and for the first time was able to communicate fully.
Paz y Esperanza provides sign language teaching and training for deaf children, their families and local communities, so they can not only learn sign language but one day hopefully become trainers themselves and help to improve communication for other deaf children.
When he first joined the group, Frank was very quiet, too nervous about his poor communication skills to contribute to conversations. Over time, as he learnt more signs, he came out of his shell and started communicating with his peers. He tried new skills such as carpentry and discovered a talent for decorating cakes! Frank now works in a cake shop, decorating the cakes with his own designs.
Thanks to Paz y Esperanza, Frank has successfully joined the world of work – an opportunity many deaf young people do not get.
Erasmos: With sign language, I can… help other people
East Africa | Tanzania | Deaf Education & Development
Headmaster of Moshi Technical Secondary School, Erasmos Kyara, is passionate about making sure deaf children have equal access to education. Over 1,000 of his students have disabilities, and Erasmos has been at the frontline of a recent DCW project to make lessons more inclusive for deaf students.
DCW and partner charity Child Reach Tanzania were brought into his school to provide sign language training for teachers. All teachers have been using sign language in all their classes, not just those with deaf students. They have also given deaf students one-to-one support. Erasmos said the programme has instilled a sense of confidence among deaf students and improved teachers’ proficiency in delivering lessons to deaf students.
DCW and Child Reach Tanzania have trained more than 100 teachers across the country. They also ran vocational training courses for deaf young people who had already left school (a third of whom got jobs by the end of the course) and set up a local business network of deaf-friendly employers.
Thanks to the use of sign language in schools, the national exam pass rate for deaf students rose dramatically – from 47% in 2015 to 76% in 2016. Deaf children and young people reported a 70% improvement in community inclusion.
Find out more about Deaf Child Worldwide here: http://www.deafchildworldwide.info/
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