Wednesday May 14, 2008 (writing about May 13)
It is morning and the power is not on but the sun is up! Back to the meeting…
Some of the people at the meeting were surprised that the teachers are being paid by Signs of Hope (SOHI) to learn sign language. They said a teacher should want to continue their education especially if it directly benefits their students. They said, “Usually teachers PAY to attend a class to further THEIR education!” They were still grateful that SOHI has put their programs in place.
Wow what a relief! They know the issues! Can you imagine how things would have gone if we waltzed in telling them everything that is wrong? Here, let me hand you a list of the issues you need to address. That, never goes well!
Curry and Erin described the SOHI programs. Erin was also very clear that SOHI’s interest is in education and deaf children. She said that requests to pay for buildings or vehicles will not be considered. The attendees felt that if Signs of Hope had only been in Ghana 1 or 2 years it would still be considered a pilot program. Since it has been running for 4 years, it should be supported and continue to be implemented in more schools. Erin presented a new curriculum they developed that will be used to teach the teachers GSL.
Everyone was supportive and continued talking about early intervention, parent education programs, teacher education and GSL (Ghanaian Sign Language) as a first language, teaching English as a second language and public awareness programs.
Wow! In America the first hours would have been spent fighting over if the kids should be oral or if they should learn English as a first language or if maybe sign language should be the way to go. There would be heated debates and many tears shed. It was like magic! Walking in, having them list the issues and simply stating the solution is to give deaf children sign language as early as possible so that they have a first language rather than a language delay.
As they talked about programs they would like to see in place, Curry started signing to me that I was up. I started signing back, “What do you want me to say? What point do you want me to make?” He signed back, “Just tell them about Leah and what you’ve done with Signing Time.” I admit, I was nervous. I wondered, which words would make a difference?
Curry introduced me and I said, “My daughter is deaf and I would like to share our story as a vision of what is possible for your deaf children. My daughter Leah was one year old when we realized that she was deaf. My husband Aaron and I began signing with her immediately. By the time she was two she could communicate more thoughts and concepts through sign than her hearing peers could through their two-year old ability to speak. Leah started school at age 3, she had a deaf teacher. Leah’s first language is American Sign Language. She learned English as her second language through reading and writing it. Leah is 11 years old and is in 5th grade. She knows as much as any 11 year-old child and does extremely well in school, not by a standard set for deaf children, but by the standards for children.
When Leah was 4, I was frustrated with how few people in our family and in our community could truly communicate with Leah through her first language, sign language. My sister and I created a video to help others learn to sign. Now we have more than 30 DVD’s, we have books and flash cards and our show can be seen on public television stations across our country. If a family needs sign language or is simply interested in it, they can turn on their television and watch it in their home or they can purchase our shows for their homes or schools.
Signing Time is not only for deaf children. In America hundreds of thousands of families are signing with their children, children who can hear, because a young child can communicate through signs before they can speak. Because so many people are signing, Leah has many people to communicate with. This is the vision I share with you, a world where deaf children are celebrated and cherished. A world where a deaf child’s language does not isolate them, it connects them.”
The wonderful thing is, they got it! I am so glad that I was there. The group agreed to meet again in one year and see what had been accomplished and how to continue to support these programs. (Curry suggested we meet in January, when it is much cooler. I would second that motion!)