How Deaf Peruvian Students Inspired Me to Give Back

No Barriers Youth Leading the Way Peru Deaf and Hard of Hearing 2015

It’s 9 a.m. and we’re on a bus with children from a Catholic boarding school for the Deaf, heading to their farm. They sign to each other, laughing and having fun and making jokes, excited to be going to their farm for the day.

The American Deaf kids on the bus use spoken language versus sign language, and there’s a good reason for that. Without speech therapy or access to outstanding audiologists, we would have never have had the opportunities to excel in school the way we do. For the kids in Peru, it’s a different story.

Many of them come from Andean mountain communities that speak Quechua, not Spanish. These very traditional communities are dispersed and mainly rely on farming. When they come to the Catholic boarding school in Cusco, San Fransisco De Asis, they have to be taught to read Spanish and to socialize. They are also taught Peruvian Sign Language. But here’s the catch: not all of the teachers know Peruvian Sign Language. Their teachers are nuns and they love the children; it’s not their fault they don’t know Peruvian Sign Language. It’s merely an oversight of the rights of disabled people in Peru. There are few interpreters to interpret Spanish into Peruvian Sign Language, let alone Real Time Caption Providers, so high school dropout rates are unfortunately high in Peru.

Of course the kids aren’t to blame for that either. One day my hearing aids died and I had to sit through biology class without them in; I barely got any information from it and was slightly ashamed of my hearing loss, which was out of my control.No Barriers Youth Leading the Way Peru Deaf and Hard of Hearing 2015

Here in America, we see pictures all the time begging us to donate to one smiling child or to sponsor one starving child in a Third World country. We hear about the struggles they face on a day-to-day basis, and we just imagine it as a picture. But when you meet the people who live in Third World countries you see things you can’t find in a picture. They eat different, dress different, speak different, act different, look different, but they smile and laugh and cry and fight to survive just like us. The only country I’d ever been to before Peru was Ireland, and I am Irish so it was not surprising. Peru was unexpected and eye opening.

So now that I grapple with the idea that these are real living breathing people fighting for basic human rights (a language, access to fair education, interpreters), I can’t help but feel a tug in my heart every time I think of them.

There is a quote that goes along the lines of “I always asked myself ‘Why doesn’t somebody do something about that?’ but then I realized: I am somebody.” So based on my No Barriers Youth experience, I now hope to collaborate with the two groups of Peruvians who happened to be deaf on constructing an online Peruvian Sign Language dictionary.