[SOCIAL AND PASTORAL BULLETIN No. 144 / June, 15,2008]

Abe Keita (Franciscan priest)  
I paid a visit to Fr. Sato Houzou in the Philippines, after 3 years. Fr. Sato is working there in education programs with the deaf and I could get a feeling of the situation of pastoral activities for the deaf there.

Fr. Sato was sent as a missionary to the Philippines in 2002 and since then has been doing educational programs with deaf people, training also leaders for the deaf in Quezon City and in the city of Calbayog (Samar Islands).

Three years ago, after a training program for leaders, its participants started to serve the deaf at Calbayog City. At the time of my last visit 3 years ago the acquisition of the skills of sign language for the liturgy and daily conversation, as well as English communication, did not proceed smoothly, but this time thanks to the efforts and leadership of Fr. Sato there was a clear change to train personnel that could carry on the services to the deaf in the future.

After visiting Quezon City I took a plane from Manila to the city of Calbayog in the Samar Islands. It is an hour and a half flight. Fr. Sato has just finished building there the Franciscan Deaf Center. Three years ago the Center was a rented house, but thanks to financial assistance from Germany and from the Philippines a new 3-story ferroconcrete building with a students' residence and classrooms has been built. At present, there are 20 students and 5 leaders staying in the boardinghouse.

In my last visit, 3 years ago, I could observe that the students of the dormitory that had come from the mountain regions, towns and villages, by the seashore, looked shy and retired, most probably because they were not confident enough with the skills of sign language.
Nevertheless this time, senior students were helping the new comers with the lessons and the repetitions and guided them in their daily life. Judging from their faces I received the impression that, because of the education and training programs they felt fully confident.

It was clear to me that thanks to the skills obtained in sign language they were improving their learning and thus the students started to hold dreams and hope towards their future. For instance, once they graduated from the school for the deaf they wanted to go for further vocational training or offered themselves to help deaf students, even to become teachers. Formerly, many of them couldn't go to school because they were unable to use sign language. Instead, they remained home helping their families, as much as their health allowed them. Although their numbers are not so big, Fr. Sato makes efforts to bring them to school from their mountain huts and fishing villages where they live and at this moment they have been able to hold dreams of a better future.

One of the reasons why Fr. Sato continues these educational activities is because, in the Philippines the feelings towards the disable, for instance what in Japan is called "barrier free" consciousness, are still rare. Fr. Sato thinks that in order to change the mentality of people to isolate the disable, it is a very important element to train teachers and to extend the network of supporters and volunteer staff.

I felt this time that, the activities with the deaf and other disable to form communities and the efforts to widen the possibilities for the education and self-support of the disable that are pushed to live isolated in the country side, are little by little taking shape. I enjoyed the visit that projected a cheerful future in the years ahead.
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