July 16, 2011
International Conference Centre
It was early Saturday evening as I sat waiting in the hotel lobby for my two Canadian friends, who happen to be WFD Youth Camp delegates from Canada, to arrive for our dinner date. The Hilton hotel began buzzing with activity, the swarm of delegates started arriving for the WFD Congress. The opening ceremonies would commence the next day. While I was waiting, I had a lovely chat with the American National Association of the Deaf representatives, Howard Rosenblum and Nancy Bloch about the efforts they were pushing NAD towards a close working relationship with the Deafblind association and the great news that the Federal Communications Commission would fund Deafblind people millions of dollars per year for technology advancements. Afterwards, I had the leisure of meeting current President of WFD, Markku Jokkinen, whom I had met way back in 2003 during my time as a leader for the WFD Youth Camp in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. It was a brief and cordial reunion. He didn’t seem to remember me, but that is all right. I pondered about the rest of the week – who I would recognize from past international conferences, or the new people I would befriend. My heart was beating with excitement.
And as hours went by, I started to get fidgety. Where were my Canadian friends? I asked Howard where they were, and he said that the Youth Congress was being held up and that they were still voting on new board members. I had to check this out, so I asked someone to guide me there.
I saw the International Conference Centre for the first time. A huge, colorful banner stretched 15 feet horizontally above me. Booths for registration and security checkpoints were set up. Despite being a leader at the Youth Camp in 2003, I never set foot in a WFD Congress. This would be my first!
It took us a while to get to the room where 200 Youth Delegates were packed, it was easy to see that there was high anticipation, flurry of hands signing, people waving makeshift fans to keep cool in this overheated room. The A/C was on, but it was the energy of the room that felt like a fire was set ablaze. It was an enthralling feeling. To be young again… wait, I am still young!
I thanked my guide, Rachel Noble from New Zealand, and sent her off. I looked around and stood, with my cane erect and my colorful attire, hoping to catch the attention of someone who knew me. Sure enough, it took only 5 minutes before Wendy from Ireland caught me and gave me a good Irish hug. I had visited her home city of Dublin a few years back on my solo backpacking trip throughout Europe. She was a fantastic hostess. I asked Wendy if I could be escorted to the front, where I could catch the action. She asked one of the current-but-soon-former WFDYS Board members to do so, and soon enough, I was given a front seat. I spotted Melissa Malzkuhn on stage, a friend and colleague from Gallaudet, and looked to my right. Aha. There were my 2 Canadian friends, Dean and Christy. They waved a very enthusiastic hello and we winked.
As much as I wanted to be able to understand the discussions and the platform presentations, my vision didn’t allow me to do so. A gentle tap on my shoulder made me look to my right again. It was the Belgian delegates. “My name is Amandine. Would you like me to tactile interpret for you?”. Color Coco shocked. This young lady could not look more than 20, and she knew first off that I needed some kind of interpreting support. Gladly, I accepted her offer, and she told me that she wasn’t an expert. I told her that there was room to learn, and that one day, she would interpret for many, many Deafblind in Belgium.
A steady stream of youth above the age of 18 came on stage, proclaiming their interest to run for the new 2011-2015 WFDYS Board. I found a few to be interesting, the others somewhat bland. There was a college friend, Ryan DiGi, who put himself in the candidate pool. Good for him.
It was already 10:05 pm when they started going forward with the balloting. I looked behind me and saw a few slumped back in their seats, exhausted from a very early morning, a very long day and a continuous night filled with politics. They remained, earnest to get this business over with, and represent their country well.
Somehow, during the final tally, something went wrong. I couldn’t even get the whole story straight – it was as confusing for all of us. Two people were automatically off because of very low scores, and the first two were keepers. One made it above the mark, and one stayed on the mark but was let go. If that’s the gist of things, for me and for everyone else, to get four people on the Board was becoming complicated. Youth swarmed to form lines at both sides, and some were fiercely holding up hands, yelling “Vote again!” “Undue process!” “What is that?” – it was madness. Those who sat back lazily, tired, were now standing, alert and confused. One by one, the protesting youth deemed the process unfair, and demanded a recall. The WFDYS Board convened together and decided to go ahead with a re-vote. Amandine wanted to go on stage and speak her mind, so I enlisted Dean, who did an excellent job just as Amandine, then he wanted to speak his mind. Christy was juggling being a tactile interpreter and barking orders at Dean how to present the case from the Canadian delegates. It was amazing, to see that even in this frenzy, everyone wanted to make sure this Deafblind visitor was getting the visual access to everything going on!
I felt euphoria and strength from this pool of people, and it awakened something inside of me that had faded away, somehow, in the midst of my personal troubles of the past year. I found myself wanting to do more for the Deafblind, to fight for them like the Youth Section of this Congress fighting for equality, justice and our future.
Meeting with the youth after the heated Youth Congress brought back good memories for me, from the 2003 Youth Camp. I was leader for ten wonderful youth, planned crazy activities to challenge them, led a workshop on Deafblind topics, and most fondly, changed the life of one Deafblind American man named Christopher. Today, I know where most of the youth from 2003 are, most notably Filip Verhelst who is co-founder of Frontrunners – an exceptional educational course for Deaf leaders in Denmark; Christopher is now a mentor for Deafblind youth in his state and has accepted his identity as a Deafblind person and continues to evolve as a Deafblind leader; and the countless of Deaf people back then who are making achievements for their communities worldwide.
I know that the youth of today might be misguided by surrealism, by technology advancements, distorting political games, and parents who work more than they parent. However, I have seen proof, in that room on Saturday, July 16, that we can all be confident, that our future as a Deaf community worldwide will continue to strive, and succeed with more and more amazing additions to education, justice systems, development, technology and in my case, they are most likely to be more accepting and supportive of Deafblind people.
Congratulations to the new WFD Youth Section Board, may you continue to carry the torch for future generations of worldwide Deaf youth, and may you open your doors for incoming Deafblind youth leaders.
Ubuntu – the fountain of youth lies in all of us.