School helps free deaf children from stigma

School helps free deaf children from stigma

2010-03-30 15:54:29
RAGAMA, Sri Lanka(UCAN) -- For the past 70 years, a Church center for deaf children has helped dispel the social stigma attached to such people by educating them and helping them find employment. Sister Jacintha Jayasinghe, principal of St. Joseph’s Deaf School in Ragama, Colombo archdiocese, says the institution is currently educating 250 students. “We have classes from preschool to advanced level. We teach them the normal school syllabus,” said the nun from the congregation of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Vice principal Sister Malin Gunatillke says the school provides a variety of interactive learning experiences for students, often supporting them into early adulthood and helping them find jobs. One of them is Rohan Perera, 34, who now works in a bank. He credits the school for teaching him sign language and says his parents are now helping him find a suitable partner in life. Leon Jalin, another past student, echoed his views. “We have all benefited from learning sign language,” he told UCA News. The school was founded in 1939 by the congregation of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and started with just 16 students. Since then, it has helped thousands of young deaf people. “We have altogether 30 teachers who are specially trained, including a nun who has been deaf since birth,” said Sister Jayasinghe.

Vocational courses for students

Father Sudath Jayalal Silva, archdiocesan chaplain for the deaf and blind, said that when students finish their studies at the age of 18, they are sent to the school’s vocational training centers in Werulugama, Kulayapityya and Moratuwa. “There we have courses on embroidery, poultry farming and cooking” among others. “Each student will select the course suitable for him or her and we will train them accordingly,” he said. Sister Jayasinghe says that “every month we have meetings and frequently we have occasions where all the students come together and get to know each other to find life partners. “They ask advice from their parents as well as from us on marriage.” More than a million people in Sri Lanka are believed to be deaf, a condition which carries a stigma in both family and society. Some parents believe that a deaf child is a symbol of bad luck and keep them away from the public eye. As a result, very few deaf people receive university education. Maryknoll Father Charles Dittmeier, director of the Maryknoll Deaf Development Program who visited the Sri Lankan school recently, said, “If deaf pupils are allowed to communicate with the world through the use of hearing aids, speech therapy or through being taught sign language, they can grow and become well adjusted adults.” He added that “one important step in helping the hearing impaired students of Sri Lanka is to create a national sign-language dictionary to allow effective communication between the deaf community and others.” SR09258/1595 March 30, 2010 48 EM-lines (467 words) School gives hearing-impaired hope
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