In Canada I hold a very special volunteer position, or I guess special to me. This position has not only just opened my eyes to the world that those with exceptionalities face, but it has driven me to come further in pursuing what it is exactly that I want to do in life. My last day at this placement after two years was sad, not only for me, but I know the staff at the Children’s Centre felt it too and the families that I had interacted with over my two years there. The kids may change every year, but that doesn’t mean we stop seeing them in the hallways or hearing about them and how they are doing once they have entered the school stream.
I left the centre when I made my final decision to study abroad, and I don’t regret it. I miss the kids and the joy and excitement that it brought to my mornings each week. The smiles on their faces as they walked through the doors into the program, the laughs that these kids could make at the smallest things, that regardless of what was happening in the world outside these kids glowed, the light they radiated was bright. I knew that there would always be a place for me to go back when I get home, this year off was only temporary, I’m still in touch with the supervisors about all my adventures, and I plan to visit the centre upon my return to Canada, but I couldn’t take a full year off. I needed to find a way to get involved while I was abroad and make a difference here.
There are kids out there with differences, exceptionalities, and stories to tell.
They need a little extra push to help them shine bright and get their story out there!
There wasn’t much to do in the first semester and it was hard to find ways to get involved. I may be living in a third world country, but finding the paths to get involved where I want to make the differences is not easy. It was challenging but that didn’t stop me.
When the second semester started, I was registered in a class that had a field work component; a trip to Guyana to do research in the deaf communities. I didn’t really have expectations, and I didn’t know what that was going to bring, but I knew this is where I wanted to be, this was what was calling me. The countless hours and time put in to prepare for this trip, to fundraise to help support us in getting to Guyana, made the results of the trip worth it. Click here for a video of a young girl learning sign language during one of our fundraising events.
We knew we were visiting a small village where most of the family from the oldest generation to the youngest were deaf, but we really didn’t know much else about them. It was getting here that I realised even though I was only spending one day here, I could leave the impact that I needed with them.
I met S, a 12 year old girl living in the village who is deaf. Her language is dying. The village she lives in has its own sign language, its own form of communication, but a functional form. It’s not just gestures at each other, it has a functional number system, days of the week and communicative forms, but it is dying. It is dying because hearing people are coming in and deciding that rather than trying to learn HER language to communicate with her, they want her to learn and different language to make it easier for them. It’s not about her anymore, it’s about the convince and easiness for the outsiders who interact with her, and who aren’t willing to go the extra mile to communicate in her language.
When I saw her communicating naturally it was beautiful, it is something that needs to be preserved for her and for the future generations in her family. To allow them to have the most natural form of communication that they can to easiest communicate. People who interact with her need to be willing to communicate with her in her language so that she feels comfortable to. She has a language and it is being killed because people are not willing to learn and understand it because it makes them uncomfortable and this isn’t fair.
This is something that happens in travel though and I think this has been the biggest lesson and relatable stand point during my travels.
When you travel remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable, it is designed to make its own people comfortable – Clifton Fadiman
We see all these places while we travel and are abroad, and it is not designed to make us as the traveller comfortable. If it was life would never really begin, because life really begins when you are outside of your comfort zone. This is the same with S and the language of her village, it is designed to make her comfortable and we need to adapt when we interact with her.
Sign languages are a vital part of our society, they are the tools and communication for those who are deaf, we as the hearing society cannot be the reason that these languages die. There are already a number of factors that contribute to dying languages, there isn’t need for another one.
So go abroad, do the things that scare you, push yourself from your comfort zone and get involved. It is the best way to really fully experience the culture and the country that you are in, but ultimately remember you are the traveller. It’s okay to feel out of place, but don’t try and make others change to make you feel comfortable, embrace the differences that travelling brings to you and grow from the experiences it leads you on.
For now it is on to the next adventure. That’s it for this one.
In safe travels,