finding resources for a deaf student
Inside the sweltering rental car, Juliana sits wedged between her parents in the rear seat. The vehicle zigs and zags along the bumpy road, trying to avoid the large pot holes. No one speaks. We pass small villages of one-room, mud-brick houses with warped, rusty metal roofs. The landscape alternates between remnants of rainforest, parcels of land cleared for cultivation, and tidy groves of rubber trees and African oil palms.
Juliana is thirteen years old. Her stern gaze is fixed on the road ahead. Her facial expression is blank. There is not the hint of a smile.
What is she thinking? What is she feeling?
Juliana is at the heart of this 45-minute trip from Kolahun District to Voinjama: She is deaf.
Because of her inability to hear or converse, Juliana meets RESTORE HOPE: LIBERIA’s criteria for beneficiary enrollment in the RHL program that supports children who are disadvantaged by childhood disability, parental loss or parental disability.
In recent months, both James Kpangbai, RHL’s Field Coordinator, and Margret Gieraths-Nimene, RHL’s then Country Program Director, have been exploring suitable schooling options for Juliana. In Liberia, schools for the deaf are rare. Although RHL has supplied Juliana and her family with sign language books and although she’s enrolled in a conventional local school, it’s clear she needs more resources.
A nun, Sister Ann Kelly, had recently told James about a new school for the deaf in Voinjama. Today we’re going with Juliana and her parents to visit this school.
In Voinjama, we stop to get final directions to the school. I catch a glimpse of Juliana; her face still emotionless. Is she nervous? Scared? Apprehensive? Excited? Unsure? Eager? Reluctant?
It’s been seven months since Juliana enrolled at the Voinjama Academy for the Deaf. James in Kolahun has called to tell me he’s sent photos of some of RHL’s beneficiaries, including Juliana.
I open the file of photos and read the first caption: “Juliana and her school mates.” She has friends, she is connected to the world through relationships. And she’s smiling! A sign of HOPE.
“There is substantial evidence in the psychological and sociological literature that individuals with richer networks of active social relationships tend to be more satisfied and happier with their lives.”