Total communications for deaf Palestinian children

Published: 27 August 2004 0:00 CET

“Since the beginning of the intifada, it has often been difficult to go to school because of the checkpoints,” says 16-year-old Halim Abil in sign language.

“Sometimes the soldiers refuse to let me through, and I have to walk long distances to reach school. But in spite of the difficulties, I am determined to go to school, no matter what, even if it can be frustrating and humiliating to get here,” she says.

Halim has 75 per cent hearing loss. She has studied at the Total Communications Centre for Teaching and Rehabilitation for the Deaf, run by the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) for seven years.

“When I graduate from the centre, I want to continue my studies. My dream is to become an engineer and work with computers,” she says.
The centre has a crucial role to play for deaf and hearing-impaired children who would otherwise be isolated and marginalized.

“The conflict has had great impact on the school and its students, but we do what we can to give them the education they need, because we know how vital it is for their future,” explains Manal Hamad, Executive Secretary of the centre. “Our students love their school, and that is very rewarding for us.”

The centre, founded in the west Bank town of Ramallah in 1993, has belonged to the Palestine Red Crescent Society since 1997. It consists of a kindergarten from the age of three and an elementary school up to 9th grade.

“This is my first year in this school and I like it very much,” says 10-year-old Yusef Sabriel in sign language, while Mrs Hamad translates. “Unfortunately I am not so good at mathematics, but I like the Arabic classes very much.”

“We teach the same subjects as other schools in the country,” Hamad continues. “But of course hearing training, speech therapy, sign language and lip reading are the most important courses. Teaching the students how to communicate with the outside world is what they need most of all.”

The centre helps its students find employment when they have finished school. Many start work in fields where they do not need to depend too much on their hearing.

Some have found work in a centre for the handicapped making wooden toys. One student has become a carpenter, making furniture, while others have got jobs in construction or restaurants.

Three former students if the Total Communication Centre have become teachers at the school.

Staff at the centre follow up on their students after they leave school to see if they have any problems taking care of themselves, or difficulties working with their superiors and colleagues. When it is needed the centre can intervene with advice and assistance.

Hamad explains that most of the children at the centre come from villages around Ramallah. The remoteness of the villages and the travel restrictions related to the conflict make it difficult for them to commute between school and their homes.

“Many of them live in the school dormitory, but others have been unable to attend school. The 2002-2003 academic year was particularly difficult and too many children and teachers were unable to come to the school for long periods of time. Finally the whole year had to be repeated,” she says.

But despite the challenges facing the centre, its teachers and other staff continue their task of helping the deaf children to become self-reliant individuals with all the necessary skills to make a living in society.

And even if the ongoing conflict is difficult for these disadvantaged children, they still cherish their dreams of being able to take care of themselves and live their lives like other people.

When little Yusef was at last asked what he wanted to do when he finishes school, a happy smile spread over his face, and in his fluent sign language he quickly explained: “I would like to get a job and a wife when I finish school. Then I would like to have one child.”


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