Of all the places in the world where the deaf need education, empathy, and hope – why this country over the others? For me personally, the first and foremost answer is leading. God has led me here. So I have followed Him. But there is another answer too. Why India over other countries? I have at least 60 million answers.
60,000,000: That’s the estimate of how many deaf there are in India.
60,000,000: The population of California state and New York state combined.
60,000,000: Roughly the population of the entire country of Italy or England or France.
60,000,000 people: Children, mothers, fathers, orphans, grandparents… humans.
Numerous factors have contributed to this high number: Genetics, injury, diseases untreated or mistreated, misguided home-remedies gone awry…. In this country, more so than others, these deafness causing diseases and misguided remedies are all too common, and they are main contributors to these unusually high numbers.
But the problem doesn’t end here. No, it only begins. Too many in India can’t afford hearing aids. Too many think their children can’t learn any language at all. Some think their children are stupid, demon possessed, or cursed. Those parents who don’t (and I have now had the privilege to meet these parents and speak to them) have an extremely hard time finding help for their children – someone to teach them language, someone to educate them, someone to teach them a trade.
“If you would stay here and help our children, so many would be so grateful,” an Indian father of a deaf girl told me as we sat with Aunty and Uncle under a Loquat tree. His daughter attended the one deaf school in the state, but due to the their lack of resources was saddened at his daughter’s lack of education, though his daughter is more fortunate than most.
“Most deaf children are kept secluded in their homes,” an Indian Audiologist from the near-by “Rehabilitation Center” informed me. “The lucky ones are allowed to roam around the streets during the day.”
Those who can get into deaf schools are very blessed, but the education there is very minimal. Some schools encourage signing and even teach it, the ones which discourage it, though, are often disliked by the parents who feel that this puts their child at a disadvantage. Since signing is more natural to the deaf, many agree that it is an easier and more useful language for them to learn. Once they have that as their established “mother tongue,” other languages are usually quite easy to learn. But when the “mother tongue” is stifled or not used by teachers, this often makes learning difficult for the children. (There is much hot debate on the Oral vs. Sign methods, and I don’t desire to choose a “side,” as it were, here and now – only to convey to you what others have conveyed to me.)
Beyond academic education, trade training is very important for the deaf (how else will they be trained to carry out a job?) but often too expensive for these minimally funded schools to offer. One deaf school, for example, began with different avenues of trade training but had to cut back due to a lack of resources. Because of a lack of support, the schools and the children in them suffer.
But the children who have the opportunities, the children who are supported, the children who have the finances: They succeed. I’ve seen it for myself. One deaf man I’ve met functions quite normally in society: He is an entrepreneur, running his own clothing shop with his deaf brother. He connects with people on Facebook with his smart phone. He traveled alone across town last week and showed us around a local park. He is an example of how integrated the deaf here can be if they are only given the opportunity to succeed.
This is why we need to pray, this is why we need to brainstorm, this is why we need to support each other, and this is why we need to take action. Because there is hope for these people if only we will be their hope.