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Volume 3 Issue 5

June 2010

Discovering Deafblind Worlds: They're Out There, All Right! By Christine “Coco” Roschaert

white woman in search of answers, inspiration and education began in Fiji. By the time I am KATHMANDU, home, I figure I will NEPAL: The journey I have tactiled over 5,000 have taken thus far has now landed me in the pairs of hands, tasted 10,000 different plates bustling Thamel tourist of local cuisine, and district of Kathmandu. smelled millions of difI am drinking my Nepferent scents as I spun alese tea (with a cinnaCoco (left) rides on a paddle boat in the globe. There are the mon zing), going over Ninh Binh National Park, North Vietnam. today’s pictures and rehundreds of extraorflecting on the amazing dinary places I’ll have experiences that I have had the great fortune to tactile seen as well as the lives I’ll have come into. I wanted to the past five months. My journey as a nearly-blind, Deaf, see more of the world before I lost all of my sight to Usher Syndrome. Nothing makes my journey more worthwhile than the opportunities I have had to meet people who, like me, are going through their own Deafblind(hood). Their lives vary: educated champion advocates, impoverished villagers and the uncommunicative, all living in a world of silence and darkness. I can only tell you in brief Discovering Deaf Worlds is a 501(c)(3) about the Deafblind children and adults I have met, so you get an idea of what I came across. non-profit international deaf advocacy NEW ZEALAND:There is a small Deafblind population organization dedicated to empowering in the country; more Deafblind (mostly Usher) people deaf and hard of hearing communities can be found in Christchurch, South Island. Wellington in developing countries. DDW strives is the city with the most access for Deafblind people; to advance the capacity of local deaf vibrating crosswalk signals and Braille paths can be communities around the globe to meet found everywhere. A lot of Deafblind people are far away and isolated in small towns. Deaf communities seemed their social, educational and employto be accepting of my Deafblindness and showed signs ment needs. For more information, of trying to be more aware. visit

What is DDW?

Continued on page 2 June 2010 1

Discovering DeafBlind Worlds Continued from front page

AUSTRALIA: Sydney Deaf Society supports Deafblind people and the workers are tactile-friendly. Melbourne, in the state of Victoria, boasts over 70 Deafblind people. Able Australia is the leading organization of the Deafblind in the city. Tours every second and fourth Wednesday are planned for Deafblind people to places like law firms, the Victoria Parliament and zoos, all with respites/intervenors/guides. Heather Lawson is an extraordinary leader and advocate in her own right – this Deafblind lady likes to bungee-jump, skydive and has plans to go scuba diving. She is in her 50s and completely blind. CAMBODIA: The month-and-a-half stay in Cambodia was lengthy and educational, but almost fruitless in my search for Deafblind(hood). An American friend volunteering in South Cambodia brought me to meet Sarith Srey, a vibrant, illustrative and curious Deaf woman. She seems to have some kind of retinal ailment which restricts her field of vision. It made me wonder if she had Usher Syndrome, like me. No tests were successfully done on her sight, but it was obvious to me she is in the Deafblind category. She teaches beautiful

Coco visited five Deafblind children at the Naxal Area School for the Deaf in Kathmandu, Nepal. Cambodian Sign Language, gives signing lessons to foreigners who come to see Kampot’s famous scenery and said she wants to learn more about Deafblind now she knows she’s not alone anymore (in a sense). VIETNAM: Two weeks in this Southeast Asia country was all about American history, Pho soups, Cat Ba Island/Ha Long Bay, relaxation and recuperation from a nasty cold. So no Deafblind people were sought, but I was told there’s a program in Ho Chi Minh City. MALAYSIA: For five brief minutes, I met a woman who was Deaf and partially blind through her encouraging Deaf husband. I could only get a few words out of her, Continued on page 3

Come Travel with DDW and Engage in Deaf Communities Around the World! Zip line through tree tops in Costa Rica, visit the famous Buddhist Temples at Angkor Wat, or float through a Thai boat market. At the same time, you meet deaf leaders, learn about the issues, and participate in a solution. All tours have local deaf guides and are accessible in American Sign Language, English, and the Native Sign Language of the country you visit. Learn about the international projects DDW has pledged to support, and help make a difference by joining us on a DDW: Journey! Tour costs have built in donations that will go directly to the local deaf schools and associations you connect with along the way! For more information, contact

DDW: Journeys are now available to Costa Rica and Thailand/Cambodia! Please visit our website for itineraries and costs:


Discovering Deaf Worlds

Discovering DeafBlind Worlds Continued from page 2 but as soon I blinked, she left my Deafblind workshop before it began; a mother of a newborn, she went home to nurse. I missed a great opportunity to visit Penang’s blind school, rumored to have a Deafblind program. The Malaysian Federation for the Deaf is very keen on wanting to provide support for Deafblind Malays. That’s a step in the right direction for a national/local Deaf association. NEPAL: I could go on and on about the number of Deafblind I met in this small country, the incredible show of support from the Kathmandu Deaf community, and the Deafblind program at the Naxal Area Deaf School in Kathmandu. One man in his 40s, completely blind/Deaf, could not sign or use a cane. He had a deep laceration on his left temple from a fall. He and his partially blind/Deaf sister live in a Buddhist sanctuary. I also met two elderly Deaf men, one with an eye entirely covered in white and the other with heavy cataracts. They found strange relief in the fact that I had difficulties seeing too, and they were delighted when I told them I had a “club” they were part of. There were also four Deafblind children, two with severe

developmental disabilities, who were walking around chairs, giant bouncing balls and attentive staff at the Naxal Deafblind program. INDIA and the UK: Who knows who might appear along my path? There are life stories of Deafblindhood running their hands throughout the world, searching for answers and support. There are international Deafblind charity organizations to aid, but it’s still not enough. Parents are painfully unaware their Deafblind child could lead more independent lives. Communities are either distant or ready because of how they are exposed to Deafblind abilities. There are still more Deafblind worlds to discover – for me and for yourself as well. Close your eyes and tactile the world. Change it. You, me and everyone else. Read more about Coco’s remarkable adventures at

I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list. – Susan Sontag

What is Tactile Communication? Tactile is literally defined as “touch.” Tactiling applies to touching surfaces, concepts, and communication. Tactile maps are created with raised landmarks and in Braille for blind people. Tactiling taste and textiles by blind people in a culture introduces them to a new world. Tactiling one’s love and ideals is possible. Tactile communication is key to connecting sign language (a very visual tool for Deaf people) to the hands of Deafblind people who Coco tactiles with deaf-blind advocate cannot hear or see partially or entirely. In many cases, sign languageand avid skydiver Heather Lawson. oriented Deaf-blind people rely heavily on hand-on-hand communication with another sign language user. Hearing people use their ears to listen to voices, while Deaf people use their eyes to read sign language. Deafblind people use their hands to decipher the signs or fingerspelled alphabet to understand communication. A Deafblind person can use tactile communication with sign language in any country. Deaf people who have vision barriers such as Usher Syndrome, severe glaucoma, or cataracts use tactile communication instead of missing out; they don’t have to wait until they’re completely blind to be able to fully understand tactile communication. I decided to tactile the world – via taste, touch, ideals, and love, with sign languages in six countries – with persons from all walks of life and most especially my own Deafblind peers. Tactile equals more communication beyond imagination. - Coco Roschaert June 2010 3

Fighting Back Against Violence in Thailand By Davin Searls

proximately 70-80 percent of Thai deaf women have Late one evening on my experienced domestic and/ way home from dinner, I or sexual abuse at some saw a crowd peering anxpoint in their lives, often iously down a dark street, by a spouse or teacher. so I stopped to see what the “Many deaf women do fuss was all about. Within not know what to do when minutes, an explosion went they suffer abuse,” Boonoff in the distance and tem says. “They do not reBoontem (left) explains her goals for TDCWNF to people scattered through alize that they can go to the DDW’s Davin Searls (right). the streets. A hearing bypolice and report it, or even stander gestured to me that if they do, both the victim he could hear gunfire. A truck drove by with a bloodied and the police are often unaware that they can request man in the back; I presume he was dead, since no one for an interpreter to assist with communication.” While was giving him any sort of resuscitation. TDCWNF has been operating for only one year, it has I was in Bangkok May 13-18 to network with local already taken in several battered women and encouraged deaf associations and learn about the issues they are con- them to report their assaults to the police. TDCWNF fronting, but my visit just so happened to coincide with also requests interpreters to facilitate communication bethe height of the Red Shirt protests. The Red Shirts are tween the victims and the police, hospitals, counselors, disenfranchised rural poor people, fighting back against and/or at trials. a society where the top 20 percent own nearly 70 percent According to the Public Health Ministry’s One Stop of the country’s assets (Bangkok Post). Crisis Center (OSCC), in 2007, 80 percent of the 19,000I was there when General Khattiya Sawatdiphol was plus cases of violent abuse reported against women and shot in the head, and waited with my Thai friends in children involved domestic violence. Husbands, lovers or anticipation as his condition deteriorated. Together, we relatives, often under the influence of alcohol or drugs, watched the body count escalate on Thai television. My are the majority of the perpetrators. “He would get angry e-mail inbox was filled with concerned messages from and hit me,” one woman told me about her abusive husfamily and friends. The day after I left Thailand, one of band. “Finally with Panomwan’s help I built up the courThailand’s biggest shopping malls, Central World, was age to divorce him.” She now works for TDCWNF and set ablaze as the police arrested the protest leaders. While uses her experience to advocate for other deaf women. things have largely quieted down since then, another batThings have improved in the past few years, says tle still rages on in the heart of Bangkok. Boontem, but there is still a long way to go. ApproxiPanomwan Boontem is not a protester, but she agrees mately 70 percent of deaf women in Thailand are isowith the protestors on one thing: Thailand needs to lated, whether in their homes or their towns, and have change. She is a natural-born leader; you can see the pas- no real knowledge of their options or rights. Only onesion in her eyes when she signs. A former president of third of deaf Thais are educated, the majority being in the Thailand National Association of the Deaf, she re- major cities like Bangkok, so rural deaf women are usucently realized that not enough was being done for deaf ally unreachable. TDCWNF hopes to set up an outreach women in her country, so she founded the Association of center in each of Thailand’s 76 provinces where women Thai Deaf Children and Women’s Network Federation can be educated about their rights and seek legal assis(TDCWNF). TDCWNF advocates for deaf women tance. TDCWNF is also starting to teach deaf women and educates them about their rights, particularly when it Continued on page 5 comes to domestic violence. According to Boontem, ap4

Discovering Deaf Worlds

Cameroon's Buea School for the Deaf: A School for the Deaf by the Deaf By Aloysius N’jok Bibum, Co-Founder/Director Cameroon, in Central Africa, has a population of about 18 million. The size of the deaf population is unknown since there has been no formal census. The government invests heavily in the public school system, which is far from being inclusive. For deaf people in general, access is severely limited given there are no qualified sign language interpreters and no government schools for the deaf. A few individuals have taken on the challenge of operating private deaf schools. There are about 15 such institutions, six of which are owned and operated by deaf individuals. These private schools are generally limited to primary education and struggle to operate as they rely on school fees for their sustainability. There is a tendency for families to prioritize their hearing children’s education, the rationale being that hearing children are more likely to contribute back to the family. This often means deaf schools must struggle with parents to see that fees are paid, even if only in part.

TDCWNF Fights Violence Continued from page 4 vocational skills such as cooking, sewing, and painting, so that they can earn an independent living. Our DDW Journey to Thailand and Cambodia in October will visit Panomwan Boontem and TDCWNF. The trip will include a built-in donation to TDPanomwan CWNF, so trip-goers will also Boontem support the organization and deaf women. “Come and enjoy Thailand’s beauty,” Boontem says. “And come learn about what we do – we are working hard, and we need all the support we can get.” For more information on TDCWNF, e-mail For more information on DDW’s upcoming Journey to Thailand and Cambodia, visit

School Director Aloysius N’jok Bibum samples food prepared by candidates for the national primary school examination. The Buea School for the Deaf (BSD) was founded in 2003 by Gallaudet University alumni Aloysius N’jok Bibum and his wife, Margaret Anne Lloyd Bibum. Mr. Bibum is Cameroonian, and Mrs. Bibum is British. A product of British deaf institutions, the Bibums started the boarding school with 13 students and 5 deaf staff members. In the early years, a deaf staff member traveled to nearby towns and villages on weekends in search of deaf children. Initially, parents were reluctant to send their deaf children to school because of cost and other biases. However, with ingenuity and perseverance in outreach efforts, positive rapport was established. Nowadays, more and more, students and parents themselves are advocates for the school and have brought new students to the school. There are currently 110 students at the school (62 boys and 48 girls). It has a staff of 18, of which 7 are deaf. There are four non-Cameroonian volunteers. Many of the students start school at 10 years old, much later than their hearing peers. However, BSD has performed well on the national examinations for primary schools, the First School Leaving Certificate. BSD operates one of the very few deaf secondary schools in Cameroon. Secondary school education is a window of opportunity. Successful candidates can enroll at Cameroon’s universities and be eligible for government employment, the country’s biggest and most secure employer. Unfortunately, very few deaf people are gainfully employed. It is not uncommon to find them soliciting travelers for donations for “projects.” Continued on page 6 June 2010 5

My Life in Cameroon By Onegheayuk Gerald I was born in Mutengene, Cameroon. At the age of one year and nine months, I contracted meningitis and became deaf. I spent my entire childhood in Cameroon, and after finishOnegheayuk ing school at the age of 16, I held Gerald different jobs before becoming a teacher at Buea School for the Deaf (BSD) at the age of 22. I taught at BSD for six years and in August 2009, I began studying at the Rochester Institute of Technology/National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester, N.Y. (RIT/NTID). While the Cameroon government does not have the exact number of its confirmed deaf population, Cameroon’s National Association of the Deaf estimate the number to be as high as 60,000. Unfortunately, Deaf education is seriously lacking. There are about 20

Buea School for the Deaf Continued from page 5 Buea is a university town, and BSD has an excellent relationship with the University of Buea’s Dept. of Education and its recently creBSD expresses its delight at ated Dept. of Spesupport from a U.S. foundation. cial Education. The school’s deaf staff are increasingly being asked to provide Cameroon Sign Language classes, but due to limited resources and time, a regular program is not available. BSD also benefits from contributions by international volunteers, teachers, fundraisers, counselors, and others. Gallaudet University has sent interns the past three years. With little government support, BSD strives to expand educational opportunities for deaf children. A new campus is being built on land purchased with grants and BSD’s sister organization in the U.S., Friends of Buea School for the Deaf, Inc. BSD very much welcomes support; visit or 6

Discovering Deaf Worlds

primary schools for the Deaf in Cameroon, but all are fee-paying private institutions. Many farmers find it very difficult to feed themselves, not to mention sending a child to school. Most Deaf children from poor farming families do not go to school. If they are lucky, the school will let them bring food like plantains and cassavas from their farms instead of paying the school fees. In addition, there are no government programs for Deaf children or adults. The Cameroon National Association of the Deaf is still lobbying the government to recognize Cameroonian Sign Language (CSL). The absence of trained sign language interpreters continues to make it extremely difficult for young Deaf people like myself to advance their education. According to the World Federation of the Deaf, there were only two CSL interpreters as of July 2008. This may be because interpreters make less than $2 an hour. Continued on page 7

Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do. – Goethe

A Thank You to Our Sponsors

Ralph P. DeStephano

My Life in Cameroon Continued from page 6 There are also no institutions of higher education for deaf people in Cameroon. Due to the lack of interpreters in Cameroon, if a Deaf adult wishes to attend a university, she or he must study abroad. Unfortunately, the majority of Deaf adults are not financially capable of studying abroad, and there are no government programs that support this. As of today, there are approximately 400 Deaf Cameroonians who have paying jobs in Cameroon. The government does not provide Deaf people with assistance in finding employment, and there are no anti-discrimination employment laws. When I finish my studies at RIT/NTID, I will return to Cameroon. My long-term goal is to give back to the Deaf Cameroonian community by establishing a technical school for the Deaf there. My dream is to provide a place that can train all youth and adults with hearing and speech impairment in different fields. This technical school would provide more opportunities for

Make a donation of any amount and receive your own DVD copy of Discovering: Shuktara Special Features Incude: More Stories from Shuktara Meet Pappu DDW: Journeys

Discovering: Shuktara was edited and produced by

Deaf people in Cameroon by giving them the skills they need to find employment and live independently. This school will prove to the government and local community that Deaf people deserve equal rights. I hope to maintain close ties with RIT/NTID, and will contact other organizations that can contribute to the development of our Deaf community in Cameroon and Africa. I have very strong faith in God, and will keep praying that my dream will come true. To learn more about Oneghe’s dream of establishing a technical school for Deaf students in Cameroon, contact him at Newsletter services provided by T.S. Writing Services, LLC A Deaf-Owned Company

Travel Tidbits • When you don’t know the language and your phrase book isn’t helping, try using pictures! Point It is a picture dictionary that comes in handy while traveling in a country where you do not know the language. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words! More is at • Not sure if your backpack is waterproof ? Cover your backpack in a garbage bag, cut holes for the shoulder straps, then loosen the straps and run them through the holes. Aside from your shoulder straps, your backpack will stay high and dry. • Sew two strips of Velcro to one of the pockets of your swimsuit. You now have a safe place to keep your keys, loose change, etc., as you swim.

June 2010 7

Supporting DDW's Passion and Work By Denise Thew DDW Board Member Observing several incredible projects being developed by an incredibly passionate and energetic DDW team is what drew me into serving on the DDW board. In Denise Thew a short time frame, DDW has initiated several innovative programs such as launching the DDW: Journeys program, outlining the STAR program in India, designing a new website and logo (coming soon!), and establishing the Monthly Giving Program, to name a few. Each program became possible because of an incredible team of leaders – DDW founders, board members, committee members, event volunteers, and donors – with various talents, all working together. The DDW: Journeys program will have two tours this year – Costa Rica and Thailand/Cambodia – and aims to expand into other countries in future years. This

unique program combines adventure and service, allowing travelers to connect with the Deaf communities in each country along with a DDW team member and a native deaf guide. No other program like this currently exists, and I believe this program will allow many to gain rewarding insight into Deaf communities and culture that are not readily experienced with the usual travel approach. Many of us are fortunate to have access to “luxurious” items at an affordable price, such as drinking specialty coffee or eating out. Instead of spending close to $5 for a luxurious drink or $25 to dine out, consider donating that money to DDW via our Monthly Giving Program. A monthly donation of $25 will help pay for visual arts and theater training for talented young Cambodians of all abilities, equipment needed to create an animated Costa Rican Sign Language dictionary, and additional projects DDW is supporting across the globe. DDW’s work would not be possible without ongoing donations from every one of us! To learn more about donating, visit

For more information, please contact 8

Discovering Deaf Worlds

Shout -Outs! Shout Shout-Outs! -Outs! Jay Bunnag, Ronise Barreras, and Meng Sek: Thank you for being wonderful hosts, as always. Looking forward to seeing you in October! Carlos Mayans: You have jump-started an idea with great potential to impact the deaf community of Kolkata, India, and we are honored to support your efforts. Thank you also for the countless hours you have put into making DDW accessible to the world en EspaĂąol! Margie Pajaro and Taione Martinez: As we build our connection with ANASCOR in Costa Rica, we thank you for facilitating communication by volunteering your translation services. You have graciously taken on a crucial role to the development of this program. Zosia Verde: Your support and guidance to this organization are absolutely priceless times one million!

Jason Wittig and Nathan Meyer: You are magicians! Thank you for bringing an exceptionally creative eye to market the programs produced by DDW. We are lucky to have your artistic talent volunteered to our organization.

Call for Contributing Writers! If you have connected with the deaf community in a developing country and want to share your story, e-mail a brief summary of your experience to

Bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God. – Kurt Vonnegut

Did You Know...? According to Yongyut Borrisut, Thailand National Association of the Deaf president, there are clubs for disabled people in all 76 provinces of Thailand, including 76 clubs for blind people, but only 4 clubs for deaf people. However, the government will fund a deaf club in each province to provide equal support to all. The National Association of the Deaf there has two years to establish the deaf clubs, which will provide a place for deaf people to connect, mingle, and learn about Thai Sign Language and deaf culture.

June 2010 9

explore express empower

Student Profiles:

Name: Kan Sokna Age: 19


personal statement “Ages ago, when I used to go for walks near my house, I saw that people were staring at me and this made me sad. I had one hearing friend, who I grew up with. I wanted to learn, I wanted to go to school but I couldn’t because I couldn’t speak. When I was 11 years old I went to a hearing school but I was quite scared because all the hearing people watched me and I didn’t have any friends. I had a strong will to learn but I realized that hearing people were progressing and I just wasn’t getting anywhere. I became frustrated and my dad would beat me because I wasn’t improving at school, so I left. In 2007 my mum and dad took me to DDP (Deaf Development Programme) and I was so excited to see sign language. I felt overjoyed. I was learning loads, I was given a sign name and learnt how to sign. I practiced sign language and got better and better at it. In one year I learnt sign language. I had learnt how to write Khmer too. Now that I had a language and I realised through it that deaf people and hearing people were equal. In 2009 I was picked for the Vocational Training Programme with Epic Arts and I was SOOOO happy! I’m studying every day about arts, theatre, dancing... People from all over the world come to teach us different art forms. Now I’m so excited to have this new arts centre. The people from Epic Arts in England came to the opening of the centre and it was lovely to meet them. We danced for them and for the provincial governor of Kampot. I want to learn from my experiences. Now I get a monthly allowance and I feel respected. In the future I want to encourage small children to try to learn about art and performance and to have better communication skills. I’m going to save up my money. I’ve opened a bank account so I can save every month.” biography Kan Sokna has been a member of the Epic Arts community for the past three years and he has undergone personal growth during that time. He has been involved in three performances that have toured across the country: “The Cleaners,” “Trust” and “See People, See their Value.” He has a very strong set of friends amongst the other students and is always looking out for the others. ‘SoknaKan was aSokna hard worker in his own time. positive attitude and mature approach to Meet and often learnrehearsing more about Epic ArtsHison a DDW: Journey to Thailand learning made him a pleasure to work with.’ – 4Motion, 2010 & Cambodia this October! For more information, itineraries, and tour costs, visit: Artistic Director’s comment:

Sokna has a natural creative talent, which always noticed by visitingfor artists. Through meeting local and international IfKan you would like to sponsor Kan isSokna for $1,500 one year of training, please artists, he is really finding his own style of performance and his incredibly expressive face wins him fans every time he contact Hannah at performs. Photo © Nick Heavican


Discovering Deaf Worlds

June 2010 Newsletter: vol.3, iss.5