Day 5 Ghana 2012: You Win Some, You Lose Some

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I got up this morning and had yet to recover from my bout with the third-world’s worst stomach ache. There was no way I was putting down our daily omelet and the 2 large pieces of bread that always accompany it. We set out for the school and for the Wednesday morning devotional.

I knew what I wanted to say, but I ran a few things past Curry to be safe. It’s his long-term relationship on the line if I commit some ridiculous faux pas! I really was wishing that I could just communicate directly with the teachers and staff, without the 250 students present, because this wasn’t going to be a Signing Time concert. Turns out, I got my wish. The students were released and the staff was mine. I sent our Team to attend to the students, since all of the teachers were with me.

Curry introduced me and I went for it. I told them my name and introduced Aaron and Leah and reminded those, who had been on staff long enough to remember, that we had come in 2008 with Alex. I thanked them for having Signs of Hope’s programs in their school and I thanked them for allowing us to be there. I signed and spoke, since most of the teachers are hearing, but a few of them are deaf. I shared with them that Leah is deaf and that I have been teaching sign language in America for the past ten years. “Not in a school and not in a class, I teach on a television show. Can you imagine turning on your television and seeing a show that teaches sign language?” Most of them could NOT imagine that. I let them know that I understand and appreciate their struggle and I appreciate their work. I told them that Leah was only one year old when we realized that she was deaf, and I told them how she quickly picked up more 60 signs before the age of two. “I know that many of your students don’t begin communicating in signs until they arrive here at school and they are age 6 or 7. Can you imagine if your students were communicating before they arrived in your class? (They couldn’t imagine that either.) I explained to them the method we use in Signing Time; seeing the written word for literacy skills, seeing the object that we are spelling, and showing the sign for that object. I suggested that they teach all three aspects any time they are discussing a subject, rather than showing them a sign and then letting someone, later, teach the students the written word for it.

I showed them the 13 DVDs I brought, to add to their library. I flipped through the six Signing Time board books and passed them around so that they could see that even in the books we show the written word, the object and we teach the sign. We combine three things at once so that it sticks. I held up one board book and showed the first page, which happened to say “water” and it showed a spigot!! I’ve never been so happy to see a spigot in my whole life!! Together we fingerspelled W-A-T-E-R, pointed out the picture and then made the sign. They were up out of their chairs pouring over the books saying, “We need these!” I reiterated that teaching the three aspects at one time help make the concepts memorable.

Yesterday, one teacher was doing a lesson and she had said it was too difficult to teach the students every word, so she was just teaching them the signs. I was so happy that today, in only a few short minutes, I was able to explain quickly that you can teach deep and it saves time. While on topic, teach it all, rather than teaching the sign one day and bringing in the object on another day, and then trying to connect it to a written word at some point in the future.

I showed them the Baby Signing Time posters and the “ABC & 123” wall posters. (I brought three sets of each.) I said, “If you would like to use these things, I am happy to leave them for you, but if you don’t…” I couldn’t get another word out. They wanted all that I had brought and more!

As I wrapped up, I told them that I want them to know that our intention is not to come to class to judge or criticize them. “We are here to help in any way, whether it’s washing cups, sweeping floors, or supporting your teaching efforts.” Then, I thanked them, but not a simple “thank you.” I said, “I am a mother of a deaf child… and I don’t know how often the parents of your students thank you for your work,” a few of the teachers looked around like, “Right! As if that has ever, or will ever happen!” I continued, “on behalf of your students and the parents of your students, I thank you.” Ok, I had tears in my eyes, so did Curry, and most of the staff did as well. In less than ten minutes hearts were softened, connections happened, fears were laid to rest, and this group who may often feel underprepared, and likely, under appreciated, got the thing we most crave– acknowledgement for hard work. It was over. I was met with hugs and thanks and more “God bless you’s” than I know what to do with.

We headed to class and began opening the posters and going through the signs with the Primary 1, 2 and 3 teachers. Suddenly this trip wasn’t long enough. I was asked to do a teacher training with the staff on Tuesday, but we leave Monday. Another teacher asked if I would come speak to the parents at the PTA meeting in May. Of course, I started to wonder if maybe I could. (Dear Rachel, please remember to save your health and sanity first and foremost, yes, even BEFORE saving the deaf children of the world!) But let me tell you, we moved mountains today, mountains!

We opened up the posters with four eager teachers and I realized that I only had three sets. It was decided by an administrator that the sets would go to the three youngest classrooms and that teacher number four, would have to borrow from the other classrooms if she wanted to use them. This teacher was clearly deflated, quietly stating “my class needs this.” Her class is the class that Pablo and Carissa asked me to help with on the first day. It’s the class where Ellie and Ronai have been working one-on-one with the students. Leah has been in there 90% of the time as well. Remember the older kids that are year one? Turns out that is the Special Education class and this is the class that would have to borrow the new materials.

We were told that one of the boys had been thrown against a wall when his parents found out that he was deaf. They said, “His parents did not handle it well.” We were told that his grandparents are paying for him to attend school. He now has cognitive delays and walks with a limp. Excuse me while I weep. Sure, I mourned Leah’s deafness when it was discovered. I cried myself sick. I believed that her dreams (aka MY dreams for her future) had been ripped out from under us. I am by NO means a perfect parent, just ask my kids, but I don’t believe that I ever equated the fact that my child was missing one of her five senses with “futureless” or “worthless” or anything more than what that really is— deaf. A child who cannot hear is simply a child who cannot hear. The only drama and meaning around it is the drama and meaning that WE ADD to it. The drama and upset are not inherently there. How do I know this? Well, there are some people who rejoice upon discovering that their child is deaf. Leah has said that she hopes to have a deaf child herself. Deaf children are adopted from all over the globe and it’s my opinion that adopted children are the only ones who can know, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are wanted.

Deaf equals nothing other than deaf. So much more is added so often. And so, a child who is now cognitively impaired is relegated to a Special Ed. class in a third world country where Special Ed. is deemed the lowest priority when new and helpful communication tools are available. Whose heart it is big enough to hold all of that? That pain. That loss. What this boy’s family had before is what I have right now; Leah is a brilliant and beautiful gift, not only to me and to Aaron, but also to the world.

Today I can’t, I just can’t keep writing. I want to pretend that these things don’t happen.

This entry was posted in Going To Ghana and tagged , , , by Rachel Coleman. Bookmark the permalink.

About Rachel Coleman

The opinions and late night musings published on this blog are Rachel de Azevedo Coleman's alone, and are not ever intended to represent the opinions and sentiments of any organization or product that Rachel is, was, or will be associated with. Rachel Coleman is the creator and Emmy-nominated host of Signing Time!, the children's American Sign Language vocabulary building series. She is also the creator and host of Baby Signing Time, Rachel & the TreeSchoolers, and Rachel & Me. Rachel now serves as the Executive Director of the American Society for Deaf Children, a 501c3 nonprofit established in 1967 by parents of deaf children. ASDC is the American Sign Language organization for families who are raising deaf children. www.deafchildren.org Motivated by her child, Leah's deafness, Rachel has spent the last 18 years creating ASL products to help bridge the communication barrier between hearing and signing communities. In 2006 Rachel founded the Signing Time Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to putting communication in the hands of all children of all abilities. In 2014, the Signing Time Foundation launched a 50-Lesson online ASL curriculum called "Sign It: ASL Made Easy" that is available free-of-charge to families with deaf or hard of hearing children ages 36 months and under. Apply at www.mydeafchild.org. For those who do not qualify to receive Sign It ASL for free, they can find it for purchase at very reasonable rates on www.SignItASL.com. Rachel and her husband, Aaron, live in Salt Lake City Utah. They are parents to Leah who was born profoundly deaf, and is now a senior in college at NTID/RIT in Rochester, NY. They are also parents to Lucy who has spina bifida and cerebral palsy, and recently graduated high school. In 2010 the Colemans were joyfully reunited with Rachel's daughter Laura. Rachel is proud to be Laura's birth mom. Laura was placed for adoption as an infant in 1992 when Rachel was 17 years-old.

12 thoughts on “Day 5 Ghana 2012: You Win Some, You Lose Some

  1. Rachel, if there’s anything I can do to help with this… Please email me at the address included. You don’t know me, but you are an inspiration to me, and this story just tears at my heart. Is there any way I could purchase another set (or sets) of posters and get them to this school to be sure that this teacher gets them for her class? Anything I can do to help those Special Ed kids? I have a miracle child kind of like your Lucy, and I would like to help these children in any way I can. I’m sure customs and such is nigh to impossible, but possibly your contacts there have some ideas.

  2. Hi Rachel– Your Ghana journal really gets a persons emotions stirred up. Its sad how some parents treat their children. All of your Signing Time team members should be proud of themselves for helping folks at that school.
    I was thinking about the school mattress problem. New ones cost a lot when you have 250 to replace. Question– Are the mattresses all the same size? I saw Mattress covers at Target the other day. It made me think. I know that putting a new mattress cover on old mattresses is kind of nasty when you think about it but by those kids standards that be a wonderful thing. My thoughts—Yuk–Well Maybe–I don’t know. ???? Think it would be cheaper and easy to ship. Maybe I just think too much. 🙂

  3. I have been following your posts for over a year now. I was a sign interpreter and a Deaf ed teacher for a number of years, now I am a school counselor on the same campus. The stories you share are really enlightening. The parents of our deaf children have often frustrated me because they will not learn their child’s language but that is nothing compared to what deaf children go through in Ghana. Please keep us posted.

  4. hugs to you I work with kids with disabilities here in canada so to hear of the vast differences breaks my heart as well but resorces are hard with any population.

    you are an amazing teacher though it comes through in your videos ( the clips i have seen) and also your blogs

  5. Oh, Rachel… today’s entry is all that I imagined your trip to Ghana to be. So “spoiled” are we in our country, and we are always looking for “more”. Your post today touched me deeply (not only as a special ed teacher and a mother, but as an active member of the Deaf community).
    Wow.
    So much to think about. You have moved mountains.

    How do they recruit/keep their teachers for this Deaf school, I wonder?

    As always, thanks for all you do. You (and your posse) are tireless. Thanks.

  6. Your perspective is always so insightful; I think because you have ‘walked a mile in their shoes’. Thank you for continuing to share this journey and make us all think and rethink about our freedoms basic needs and luxuries.

  7. Rachel, thank you for all you do. You are such an inspiration to me. I look forward to each post. I read them in the morning and I ponder them all day. They are so touching. I have always considered you as a strong woman, Your honesty in these posts touch me deeply. In your life you have been meet with some HUGE “challenges”, you have faced them head on and conquered them. I am not as good with words as you are, so I hope you get that I am saying thank you, you are amazing, and I love to say that I know you 🙂

  8. I read this and wept. I am quite sure I know the exact student you mentioned from the special ed. class. I was one of the SOHI volunteers over this past summer and spent a lot of time in that classroom. Joseph was one of my favorites in the class. After reading this post, I felt a deeper conviction to do everything in my power to go back next summer. Those kids are just too precious and dear to my heart. I wish I had read your blog before going the first time… There were some great ideas. Thank you for caring so much about these children! They were still talking about you when we got there and LOVED the signing time books and flashcards we brought over with us!

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