As summer comes and graduations commence it’s hard to imagine that on this side of the globe the children are just getting settled into a new year of school. Here in the Philippines summer break is during the hottest months, April and May.
Throughout these past two months our teachers have been traveling all around the island from town to town looking for more children or adults who are deaf and inviting them to come to a Parent Orientation and learn about what IDEA has to offer.
The teachers have been met with a variety of responses from parents. Some parents are anxious to get rid of their disabled children and ask if we can keep them in the dorm permanently and not send them home for visits. Others can’t fathom the idea of letting their deaf child leave them and live somewhere else even if that means they will get an education and be able to live a productive life. Still others need their deaf child to help with the care of younger children or to do chores and help on the farm.
Gratefully the majority are involved parents who want only the very best for their children and will make whatever sacrifice needed to be sure their children “are not ignorant.” Having supportive parents makes all the difference in how well our students adjust to their new environment and learning.
This year on the island of Leyte 25 deaf individuals were identified and came to the orientation, however only 5 chose to enroll in school. It is heartbreaking to us to know that those 20 are being left in isolation. We’ve been wracking our brains trying to come up with any way to impress upon the parents how important it is for their children.
To try and better understand I asked some of the children what life was like for them before they came to school. “I was very shy and would hide in the house most of the time.” “My parents lost patience with me because I couldn’t understand what they wanted me to do.” “Other children made fun of me I had no one to play with except the animals.” “I wanted to go to school like my brothers and sisters but I had to stay home and do the chores.”
Then I asked them, “What is life like now that you’re in school?” “At first I was scared being away from home, but then I saw there were other people like me and I made lots of new friends.” “I love being able to talk and play with my friends and study and read books.” “I really enjoy learning all the new skills in vocational training class.” “When I go home for visits it’s hard because my parents don’t know sign language and I usually have to help with all the chores again. I don’t mind though, because I know I will get to come back to school.”
If only we could get the parents to hear and understand what it would mean for their child to have this opportunity.
With so many parents holding off on allowing their children to come to school we are finding that especially on the island of Leyte many of our new students are in their mid-teens, twenties and even thirties when they finally get their chance for education. We have a sixth grader who is 31!
This adds a whole new set of issues to work through. We can’t house these adults in with the young children in the dorms and without language they are too vulnerable to live alone and if they live far from the school the transportation is costly. Finding sponsors is imperative to their education. However the reality is finding sponsors for older adults is a lot harder than for adorable younger children.
Unfortunately all of these questions have no easy answers. How do you change the face of poverty? How do you change a culture? How do you change how a culture views the deaf? For now we will follow Christ’s example and love those that are in front of us and relentlessly pursue the lost.
J.R. and Claris the couple overseeing things in Leyte will be making follow up visits with parents to try and convince them to let their children attend. One of our most successful deaf graduates who is gainfully employed touching up photography is willing to travel with them to give parents a vision for what’s possible for their children. No matter when in the year a student is allowed to come to school they will always be accepted. It’s a rule in the Philippines – there is always room for one more!