Nepal Journal #3: Education Is A Powerful Tool
February 11, 2011
Naxal District School for the Deaf opened its doors 30 years ago in Kathmandu, welcoming more than 300 students. It was only until 2005 a classroom for Deafblind students opened, becoming the first and only class for students without hearing and sight. A deaf association in Denmark funded “The Association of Deafblind Parents” 5 years ago, making the class separate in education funding for the Deaf school. The NGO was run by the parents of the Deafblind children, instead of a real school official. The program had 4 teachers and now has 8 students, all without hearing and some children had partial sight, some none. For the rest of Nepal Deafblind, either they were never given a proper education and illiterate, or they grew up Deaf with sight, then to have it completely diminish. The latter tends to find work and have skills, but as soon as their sight goes, their independence and career go out the window. A “Deafblind Community” does not exist here in Nepal. It is very, very rare for a Deafblind person to be a full member of the Deaf community. And that isn’t going to improve anytime soon – the Deafblind class at Naxal closed its doors for good this past January due to stoppage of funds fro the Danish Deaf association and the Nepal government is no closer to putting aside funds to keep it open….
The Deaf community, because of their “nonexistent” interaction with Deafblind, are rightfully ignorant. No awareness were really given to the Nepali Deaf, with the exception of visiting Deafblind foreigners which would last a week or two.
When I arrived in Kathmandu and had the chance of meeting Deaf first thing when I landed I could immediately see that they were in for a surprise and long haul after fully interacting with me. Given that I am so not like the other Deafblind people in Nepal, because of my extensive background working and socializing with Deafblind people, I have equal full membership in the Deaf and Deafblind community, I have skills that bring me to a comfort level of independence such as tactile, cane use and more independent living skills.
I have been here on and off since April of 2010, and progress has been made in educating the Deaf community, partaking in research on Deafblind people, and a training programme has successfully concluded. The latter was done 2 weekends ago with my Euro-American Guiding Person, Roni. The Nepal Deafblind Training Programme took 5 hours, attracted 66 people, focused on topics like ‘What is Deafblind?’, “International Deafblind Focus” and an indepth activity/role playing session complete with audience participation. The audience picked sighted partners, put on blindfolds, walked around obstacles (stairs, too) with my cane and then did a short “tactile” test. Before this, in the beginning, I explained to the audience what kind of blindness affects Deaf people, especially in their region and then explained my own kind of blindness: Usher Syndrome, that I am probably different than most of the Deafblind in Nepal, how they shouldn’t stereotype how all of us ‘see’. Then I told the audience about different kinds of systems that Deafblind live in – Canada, USA, Europe, Nigeria, Pacific Asia and Nepal. What each of they have in terms of education, language, communication, technology, tolerance, and support services. Roni and I then gave a short session on the Rights and Wrongs of working and socializing with Deafblind people, done in “role play” so the Nepali would understand.
The domino effect does not happen in a millisecond, but I can see it’s being set in motion. The Deaf Nepali are now being educated, and also the Deafblind people are slowly gaining their independent lives. Who knows what the future holds for me and the Deafblind? Hopefully there’ll be more visitors with a Deafblindhood to help me educate them more, and for the Deaf & Hearing community here and there to embrace Deafblind people into their lives. Power to education and empowerment.