Sign Language

I was speaking with one of my colleagues this afternoon about a couple of my students. Some of them are having such a hard time, yet there’s no support for those with learning disabilities (or worse) in this country. Our school is too young to have a program to support them which means that it is up to the individual teachers to try and find a way to support these students.

As the discussion progressed, we began talking about my colleague’s husband’s work. He works with an NGO (Non-Government Organization) in Mongolia. I’m not exactly sure what he does (he seems to have quite a few different areas that he works in) but we began talking about his work with the Mongolian deaf population. I’ve noticed both here and in Korea that there is a lot of sign language happening around town. In Korea I just chalked it up to a larger population than what I’m used to, but here it just seemed a bit odd.

I’ve always had a passion for sign language and the Deaf community. I first learned to sign the alphabet when I was a Brownie. I wrote a paper on the Deaf community in my first year of university and took two sign language courses during my university career. I wrote my fourth year these on the Deaf community and their reaction to cochlear implants. For some reason I have this feeling of being connected to the deaf. I don’t know how or when, but I feel like at some point in my life that I will need to know about this language and this population.

(*Part of my passion may be linked back to a child that I met when I was a co-op student at an outdoor education center. This child was basically deaf, but had hearing aids in both his ears. He was from downtown Toronto and came from a home where his parents refused to acknowledge that he had any kind of hearing problems. They refused to learn sign language and did not help him to learn how to cope and flourish with his disability. It broke my heart. He was so excited that I knew how to sign a few words.*)

My colleague informed me that in Mongolia the high deaf population is due to ear infections that are not treated properly when people are young. Children with ear infections here will apparently often have their ears (ear drums) popped by the doctor to release the fluid. Over-medication combined with the practice of popping the ear drums causes deafness amongst a large majority of the Mongolian population. Now, this is not to say that everyone walking around Mongolia, or Ulaanbaatar for that matter is deaf. But, I do find that there are a lot more people signing than what I would see in my hometown.

And, like so many people with disabilities living in developing countries, life is hard for the deaf in Mongolia. In many cases they are unemployable. There are so many people here who don’t have jobs that giving a job to someone who can’t hear seems a bit silly. They are laughed at and bullied. They are taken advantage of. Again, this is not to say that all Mongolians treat the deaf like this, but apparently it happens frequently. And so my heart goes out to them. Had I know about my colleague’s husband’s involvment with the Mongolian deaf culture earlier, I would have tried to become involved. Unfortunately, with only a few months left it’s too late to commit to people without being able to follow through on that commitment.

I’ll finish this post with some news. We have officially decided to head home after this year. It’s been a hard year, but a good one nonetheless. I know that I’ve grown as a teacher. I love my kids (they make me laugh daily!) and it will be hard to say good bye, but it’s the best decision for Jeff and I for now. We plan on taking a couple of months to travel around South East Asia before we head home.


~ by dawseng on March 5, 2009.

One Response to “Sign Language”

  1. I can’t believe it’s already been a year! Time flies.

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