Hearing impaired get heard in free sign language lessons
BAGUIO CITY—Deaf people, whose families could not afford to send them to special education classes, have been learning sign language for free and beyond classroom walls.
Sign language volunteers of the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been bringing classes right at the doorsteps of the hearing impaired since 1994, preferring to educate them in the comforts of their homes.
Some sign language teachers are themselves deaf. All of them have been spending their own time and money to reach out to the deaf community.
More than 2,000 volunteers, from the mountain town of Buguias in Benguet to the coastal villages of Mindanao, go from house to house to seek out the hearing impaired.
If the deaf family member has not undergone formal schooling but is willing to learn sign language, volunteers would be assigned to his or her home.
Once the deaf learns the basics, he or she can also take part in Bible classes offered by Jehovah’s Witnesses for free.
Among the students who successfully finished home schooling program is Rosemarie Peralta, 21, of Caloocan City.
Peralta is the only deaf member in a family of six. Her parents could not send her to a special education school. Her father, Rodolfo, is paralyzed so the household relies on mother, Jocelyn, a factory worker.
“When I was growing up, I did not go to a regular school. I was left alone in my own quiet world because I could not communicate my feelings. I was extremely shy. I felt isolated,” Peralta said in sign language interpreted for the Inquirer.
In April 2005, two volunteers knocked on her door and offered sign language lessons, but Peralta said she felt embarrassed to admit that she was illiterate and could write only her name.
She was convinced that sign language can open up her world. Peralta agreed. “I wanted to read, write and express my thoughts. I wanted to have friends who understand me,” she said.
Peralta’s teachers combined gestures, notes, drawings and pictures to convey a word or expression. They taught Peralta how to name everything she saw through sign.
Soon, she learned to interact with the deaf community in her neighborhood. She was taught how to commute from her house, learning to explore Metro Manila on her own after several weeks.
“Of course, I got lost three times during my first few trips. But I soon found my way,” she said.
Grateful for her teachers’ patience and devotion, Peralta decided to repay the kindness by volunteering to teach the deaf. Since 2009, Peralta has been spending 70 hours each month in search of deaf individuals who needed sign lessons.
On Oct. 21-23 at Tanghalang Pasigueño in Pasig City, Peralta, her former teachers and her deaf students and friends will attend the annual three-day convention for the deaf organized by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of the Philippines, the legal and corporate arm of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
On Nov. 4-6, the convention, to be presented in English, will be open to the public also at the Tanghalang Pasigueño.