19

Deafness: Not a Curse

NeW Bureau

According to WHO, over 5% of the world’s population or 466 million people has disabling hearing loss (432 million adults and 34 million children). It is estimated that by 2050 over 900 million people or one in every ten people will have disabling hearing loss. Hearing loss may be mild, moderate, severe, or profound. It can affect one ear or both ears, and leads to difficulty in hearing conversational speech or loud sounds. ‘Deaf’ people mostly have profound hearing loss, which implies very little or no hearing. They often use sign language for communication.

Deafness is neither curse nor a tragedy. It’s just a different way of living. Raising a child who is deaf or hard of hearing is different from raising a hearing child. It is a challenging experience for both the parents and the child. Hearing is important to children because this is how they learn to communicate. Many parents react with shock and anger when they are told that their child has hearing problems. The discovery of Deaf children leaves them with many unanswered emotions and look for many questions and answers. This is a natural reaction among the sorrow and frustration such a situation can bring.
People who are profoundly deaf can hear nothing at all and can find themselves totally reliant on lip-reading or sign language. Some people assume that if a person cannot speak or hear, they live in a cage of silence and misery. However deafness is not the end of the world for their future. Deafness opens up new world, rather than the other way around. Even children born profoundly deaf may learn with confidence at a mainstream school. They are found in a wide range of professions and interesting activities, such as medicine, drama, research, entrepreneurial enterprises, writing, sports, religious activities and many more. Hearing loss can affect a child’s ability to develop speech, language and social skills. However, with early identification and intervention, children with hearing loss are less likely to experience these challenges. Parents must informed about the challenges children face in education as well as socially by making sure they get the right help and support as soon as possible will help the child’s development so they can reach their full potential. Hearing parents need to be there to support their Deaf child because their success won’t happen without the parent’s involvement and support.

Deaf Biblical Ministry (DBM)

NeW Bureau

Deaf Biblical Ministry (DBM) was founded in February 24, 1987 by Rev. Yanger Walling and his wife Amongla Ao with three boys and three girls. Today DBM School has classes from Nursery to Class 10. The curriculum is the same as any regular school. “When they first come to DBM, they come without having a language. The mode of teaching is Sign Language and they read, write and Sign in English” said Yanger Walling.
So far, twenty eight Deaf students have finished their Secondary education and some of them are pursuing higher studies. Five of them are in government service. A good number of them who were trained in their Vocational Unit are working in private sectors and some of them are in the business as entrepreneurs.

20What inspired you to start the Ministry “the Calling”?
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways..”Isa.55.8
Our calling to this ministry came in an unexpected way. While we were in college, we received our training on Special Education for the Deaf under Bruce Schwalbe (USA). Later when we were asked to join their Deaf Ministry in Bangalore, we were at first apprehensive and even refused them twice. This was because we ourselves did not really understand the importance of working with the Deaf. But when Bruce and his wife RuthAnn asked us to work with them for the third time after they prayed about it for three months, we realized that we could not say NO to God. That was how we entered into the Ministry.
After few years of working with them, we realized that there are thousands of deaf people in Nagaland and its surrounding states without a single Ministry or school for them.
The fact that God had given us the privilege of knowing the Language of the Deaf, and the fact that no one in Nagaland or the surrounding states knew that language, and knowing that without a language, the deaf would never be able to fully enjoy/live life to the fullest, we decided to leave our work in Bangalore and came back to our own state Nagaland and started the Deaf Biblical Ministry in 1987. Under its umbrella, we have a School, a Vocational Training Unit and a Deaf Church. DBM aims at the overall development of the deaf.

Rev. Walling’s family
 Rev. Walling’s family

When we first started the ministry, Christianity in Nagaland was 115 years old, but the attitude of the Naga society towards the deaf was as far back as 300 B.C where Aristotle, the Greek Philosopher pronounced, “Deaf people could not be educated. Without hearing, people could not learn”. The attitude of the people was that ‘the deaf could never be educated nor be trained, nor could they become contributing citizens of the society’. Further, there was this stigma, where a differently abled person was believed to be a curse from God. Thus, for years we suffered with no moral or financial support from any quarter.
But through the grace of God, today we are self sufficient and are reaping the fruits of the past 32 years of service.
God has blessed us with two sons and a daughter. When we were struggling to manage with very less manpower, our children picked up the Sign Language and was able to take over the responsibilities.

Which Sign Language do you use while teaching the students?
We are trained in American Sign Language (ASL) when there was no proper Indian Sign Language (ISL) in India. Also ASL has a vast vocabulary which ISL is yet to achieve. So our mode of communication has always been ASL along with few Naga Signs which we developed in order to be able to communicate in the local context.
Over the last three decades we have seen a sea of change in the outlook of the families as well as the society towards the Deaf.
DBM advocates employment for the Deaf and we are grateful that Hope Cafe Dimapur has recruited some of our alumni. Some of them are also working under various enterprises as professionals in parlours, wedding planners, teachers, painters etc. Some of them have represented India in International games as well.
The students of the school have also bagged 54 state and National awards for painting and other activities. DBM has received many State and National awards. Among them are three National awards from the President of India for being the best Institute for the Deaf in India.
Earlier, marriages among the deaf were unthought-of in the Naga society. But breaking the barrier and making a mark in the history of Nagaland, there have been four weddings in our DBM family since 2015. The Deaf are now not only educated, employed and self reliant, but are starting families as well. These are the fruits. It shows how far we have come from our belief and misconception about the Deaf and terming them as ‘useless’, ‘burden’ and ‘mad’ people etc.

24“Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents; but that the works of God should be made manifest in him” John 9:2 & 3
God never make mistakes, nothing happens by accident. So if the abled people have negative attitudes towards the differently-abled people, directly and indirectly we are complaining against God’s creation. As humans, we are too short sighted. We easily point fingers at others. God has a purpose for everything and everyone.
Another big misconception is the fact that many people call them “Deaf and Dumb” or “Deaf and Mute”. They are greatly offended when they are called by those terms. Their disability lies in their inability to hear. Physiologically, their mouth and tongue functions, vocal cords and vocal tract are normal, which means that they have the capacity to speak if trained. Thus, they are not “deaf and dumb” or “deaf and mute”, they are simply “Deaf”. And they are proud to be called “Deaf”.
The Deaf people are beautiful and perfect creations of God. The only difference we have with them is that they hear with their eyes and speak with their hands. They are not necessarily a burden to the society. If given opportunity, they could equally become a successful and contributing, if not better citizens of the society.

What are the future plans for the Deaf Biblical Ministry?
We are trying to update and upgrade in all areas. Our daughter Christina Walling joined the Ministry after completing her double Masters in Audiology and Speech Language Pathology, and with her lead and God’s blessings, we want to rise up to yet higher standards and better level.

First in Nagaland, Deaf couple Marriage
First in Nagaland, Deaf couple Marriage

What is your idea of inclusive Society?
When we talk about an inclusive society, people think of inclusive education. Many people do not approve of special schools, saying that we are segregating them from the “normal” students. But if you see our Deaf students and alumni, you will see how confident they are. This confidence is imbibed and nurtured in them when they are surrounded by people just like them. They not only begin to accept who they are, but also become proud of their identity. Once our students pass out of our school, they are mentally, emotionally and spiritually equipped and ready to face the so called “normal” society. As mentioned earlier, all our alumni are employed in different capacities, working alongside the “normal” people.

A total change of people’s mindset and attitude towards the differently abled people is the need of the hour. Even though we see some changes, our society still has a long way to go to put this into practice. Unless we give equal place to them in the society, in the workplace and at home, unless we stop looking at them as lesser human beings, inclusive society will just be a far cry for us. They need our acceptance and not just a sense of pity. As they say, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. This is how inclusive they should to be.

A message to the readers and the youths of Northeast
“And the Lord said unto him, Who hath made man’s mouth? Or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? Have not I the LORD?” Exodus 4:11
Even our creator did not deny or ignore the differently abled people. If we are followers of God, we should learn from his own example. Let us do whatever we can, wherever we are, as insignificant it might be, but if each of us do our little part in bringing equality to them, we will be contributing towards humanity by making a better world for all the abled and differently abled people to live in.

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