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Centre for the Deaf and Hearing Disabled

July 11, 2012

Our day today started relatively early, at around 7, although I was up several times during the night. Now that I was educated in the way deer sound the alarm when a threat is in their presence, I heard it twice during the night, spaced out a three-hour increments starting at 1am. They last quite a while. We had known that just down the river past our camp, leopards and crocodiles were fighting over a water buffalo carcass. We decided NOT to go sightseeing at this time as it could prove way too dangerous.

So, breakfast at 7 (complete with curry although we left it be), and off we went to leave the park where we met up quickly with Ranjit (finally!, not “Ragin”) as I am sure by now that Asanka was happy to dump us onto someone else.

He took over and got us to the Subhagya Maha Vidyala MJF Centre for the Deaf and Blind, located in Kumbukkana although the title should have the words “incredibly impoverished” on it somewhere. We were met warmly by Nayome, whose English was great. I’m sure she was briefed on what a big hit we had been at Moratuwa, so let the games begin.

We started out by playing cricket with some of the boys- my first time- BUT we were asked to play it as a blind person would. The ball would be bowled, quickly, but mostly on the ground and it had a marble or similar inside it so a blind person could hear it coming. After several whiffs, I finally connected but it was hard!. Jacob opted for the visually impaired route- an eye patch- which was easier and then he started bowling to the kids, who were quite good. One boy who was legally blind hit the tar out of the ball and all over the place. He was also quite a good bowler. He is excellent at this sport, in spite of his disability, and lays on the national team, I was later told.

After cricket, we went into the crafts centre where they were selling bags and things made by the sewing team in a roadside retail shop. And then they took us to the sewing shop, where three girls were working and they had us sew the seams onto our own makeshift sarongs. Everyone got a kick out of us wearing sarongs along with the rest of our Western attire. The girls make all the bags here for Dilmah Tea to sell through their retail channels. Fun!

These kids- 125 of them- live here and do everything here. They are in classes until 1:30 daily, wearing a white uniform. The girls wear a maroon tie. They come from the poorest area of the poor areas. The government only funds part of this Centre. MJF funds the rest. One boy we met was mandated here by the courts in the North due to his parents inability to care for him. Forget the fact that the government did not pay for his support to come here (the used to give 50 rupees a day- about 35 cents), but how the heck do they decide who are derelict parents worthy of a court case? There have to be hundreds of thousands of kids just like this one. how did this kid’s case get to the courts?

I am quite positive most of you have never seen anything like this. I know I haven’t. I am sure they didn’t stage any of this for our benefit. They were going on about their day and we just happened to be a slight distraction. After sewing, we handed out snacks to the kids in their cafeteria, making certain to only use our right hand as it is disrespectful to do otherwise. We shared a brief snack ourselves and then went to watch music class and then walk through the rest of the classes as class was in session. GASP! These are the kids that are being helped!

Honestly, the conditions were terrible but, for them, the Centre is an oasis. These teachers and aides are really doing the second most important job on earth (the first, in my opinion, is being a great parent, and most of them are doing both). They are heroes who make almost nothing to come here everyday to teach and care for these kids. I know there are others people out there in countries doing the same. Usually, you just hear about them. Now, we’re up close and personal.

All of these kids were happy and they LOVE Nayome and the Principal, Sarath, who lives onsite with his wife and two beautiful children. Most of the kids stay here for years and years. We had lunch in their quarters, where Jacob and I both ate with our hands for the first time. Doing fit properly required a quick lesson so we wouldn’t go hungry.

They had papaya and pineapple for dessert for which the kids came back for seconds. I’m sure they don’t get a lot of store-bought fruit around the Centre, so today was special. The kids were curious about the braces on Jacob’s teach and were asking him what those were for. Sarath’s accommodations were sparse, to say the least, with crayon scribble covering the walls up to about four feet high. The women who cooked for us (one being Sarath’s wife, a teacher; the other a teacher; and the last, a woman who did all of the office work) stayed in the back until I asked for them to come out so we could thank them. As we left the building, several kids were showering and screwing around in the nearby concrete block shower facility. When they saw us, they go a little bit more modest but we were all laughing heartily. It was great to see their rapport and camaraderie. This place is really their village and everyone seems to get along so nicely.

Their organic garden was suffering greatly as there had been no rain in this area for three months. We suggested getting the horticulturist from Moratuwa to come over and help them get a 12-month cycle of planting going, although we did have spinach from the garden as part of our lunch.

There’s no Internet at the Centre yet, nor are there more than two PC’s around the property. This is quite an opportunity for long distance learning via You Tube or other online mechanism. As I type this I can hear the chants from a Buddhist temple going on behind me from their morning prayer.

We drove about 10 minutes from the Centre to Moneragala, another impoverished town where we’d be staying the night (yikes!) at the Victory Inn/Hotel. OK, I have been in worse- really. We relaxed for a bit and then has dinner int he dining room where I had grilled fish (shark) and steamed veggies. Jacob had steak and fried rice.

As we bolted ourselves into the room and settled down for the evening, we tried to figure out how to fend off the A/C we finally had. It was cold enough in the room to hang meat and there were no blankets on the bed. I guess they forgot that part when they installed the air conditioners. We adjusted the settings on the thermostat but, honestly, I finally heard the unit gear itself down at about 4:00am. At roughly 4:18am, the bar in the hotel must have closed and sent everyone to their rooms. I started hearing loud voices in the hall outside our 4th floor room and, for the very first time since we have been abroad, was formulating a plan of action in my head should they start pounding on our door. Look, I am sure everyone knew there were two Americans in-house. Could have been ugly but all the noise died down and I went back to tossing & turning. Can’t wait to see what today brings!

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4 Comments
  1. Charles Fenner permalink

    In my first degree, I minored in sign language, worked with the deaf at the college. I also did some signing in the early 90’s. Working with the deaf helped me notice facial expressions better. It’s interesting how sign language is country specific. In America, the sign for gold is from the teeth or “gold tooth.” I believe in Mexico, it’s from the skin (someone brushes their skin).

    • You know, you are so right! The facial expression, body language, and time inflection are so important in determining real meaning and intent. With our current medium of communicating these days- SMS and email- it can be dangerous…many things are open to large misinterpretation.

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