Feb 20 2012
by Pablo Martos, Certified Signing Time Academy Instructor
Somehow, I convinced a remarkable young woman to marry me nine years ago, and she went around being remarkable until someone invited her to go to Ghana. I tagged along.
It started when a friend gave us some DVDs featuring an overly chipper woman in orange to help us communicate with our developmentally delayed son. Since then, my wife has started training to be an ASL interpreter, and has worked for Rachel in a number of capacities. I tended to be involved in some of the larger projects she did for the Signing Time Foundation, and as such, we both got to join Rachel, Leah, and a small group of other wonderful people whose names you won’t likely recognize, on a trip to support the Demonstration School for the Deaf in Mampong, Ghana.
It is really difficult to put into words exactly how the trip affected me, or how I feel we made a difference there. It was an unfortunately brief visit, so everything jumbled and blurred together in a busy whirlwind of activity. It certainly put my own affluence and happiness in perspective. As Ronai said, the people there are surprisingly happy for the level of poverty in which they live. I’d seen that kind of poverty before in Mexico, but I hadn’t immersed in it for a week, and this seemed qualitatively different somehow. If you look at this picture of a table from a college sociology textbook, you’ll see that the populace of Ghana is somehow happier than we are here in the US (or at least, that was the case in the late ’90′s, and I don’t know that we’ve gotten any happier here since the tech bubble burst).
But this trip also showed me how very important it is to have made the social equality advances we have. There are still places where the Deaf cannot serve on a jury here in the US, but they have opportunities here that they don’t have in most of the world. Here, there are Deaf doctors, lawyers, and teachers, and the ADA rules mean they can get an interpreter in most situations where they need one. The contrast with Ghana was immense. The DemoDeaf school is a haven in Ghana for children who are often otherwise forgotten or ignored. There, they get training, they get education, they get food and clothing, language and a peer group. But outside of the school, their world is very different. The school is run by a wonderful woman who happens to be one of some two dozen interpreters in the whole country, but until recently even that school was run by someone who didn’t use sign language. As you can see in this video, the general public is completely unaware of how Deafness works, or even what sign language is.
The gentleman in this video is a tour guide at a national park in Ghana, presumably someone who meets and talks with a very large number of people on a daily basis, and he had never met a Deaf person or seen sign language, much less seen a Deaf person interacting as an equal.
I hope we changed that tour guide’s perspective a little. I know we helped a lot of kids at the school immensely. We mostly worked with the younger age groups while there, and I helped Rachel teach a class that showed the children that signed words, fingerspelled words, and written words were all equivalent, and all could represent real things they could see and touch. I helped a new arrival at the school write his first few words at probably 10 or 11 years of age. We showed them that Leah was our and their equal. It was a very powerful experience.
I’ve been supporting the Signing Time Foundation’s work for about two years now in one way or another, and I have never been more convinced of the importance and value of what they do than I was on this trip. While we were there, we got to meet the very first Ghanaian to graduate from a two-year college. He was only able to make it that far, is only able to dream higher still, because of the help of groups like ours, because of people like you. That’s what the donation link at the bottom is about. Use it.
You can read a more detailed description of our trip, from my wife’s perspective, here.