[ SOCIAL AND PASTORAL BULLETIN No.154 / Apr. 15, 2010 ]

Abe Keita (Franciscan priest)  
Spring is the beginning of a new season. First year primary school children look bright and shiny in their new clothes, fresh graduates become first-year company employees and churches welcome brothers and sisters that have received baptism at Easter. This is how spring creates a lively atmosphere full of hope, where new members are welcomed onto the scene.
Across the ocean, in a place where no sounds can be heard, children are beginning their preparation for a new course. Deaf children at the Franciscan Deaf Center at Calbayog in the Samar Islands (Philippines) have begun registering in schools, from primary to university.
The Franciscan Japanese Father, SATO Hozo, is working in the Deaf Center. Every year, new children start life at this Center. Many Filipino children become deaf from birth because their mothers get measles during their pregnancy. Those living far from the towns cannot go to school and do not learn sign language and can only help their families at home insofar as their capability allows. Fr Sato visits these homes and invites the families to send their deaf children to the Franciscan Center to start new lives.
Thanks to the efforts of Fr Sato, the primary and high school attached to Christ the King College, located in the Samar Islands, have established a special class for deaf children, where they can obtain a title upon graduation. Later on, students who desire to go on to further studies can try to enter a university that will accept deaf persons. Children desiring to enter the schools attached to Christ the King College need to obtain a basic knowledge and fixed level to pass the examinations required.
Two years ago the Center started a literacy class to help children enter primary school.
Children six or seven years old, and even ten-year-olds, are not accustomed to group learning at school and for some of them it is quite difficult to adapt to a classroom. It was, therefore, necessary to begin with the most basic literacy level.
My first visit to this Center was in the year 2005. The building was old and I still remember the difficulties I had communicating by sign language with children that had recently arrived from the mountain villages. They seemed not to have confidence in themselves and withdrew from any communication with me. But when I visited the place again this time, the same children had become advanced in sign language. They had already gotten used to the boarding house and were in a position to act as leaders for the newcomers. They made a positive effort to communicate with me by sign language and gave me lessons in its basics. I was quite impressed by the great improvement they had made.
The Center uses sign language for Masses and prayers as well as for community meetings. Thus, the only noise that can be heard is the movement of hands and the rustling of clothes. In other words, daily life is quiet and proceeds practically without noise. Some of the staff are also deaf, and those who are not also use only sign language except for communication with the outside.
Children attending literacy classes learn the basics of sign language and are trained in simple ways of communicating with others. First-year primary students are enrolled in school after a long training so as to be able to study and to follow the instructions of teachers about ordinary school events, like how to line up. The children I met last year will soon start school for the first time, greeting their teachers and classmates silently by using their noiseless sign language.
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