Giving deaf children an opportunity to learn

Rebekah Saleem

At 21 Rebekah Saleem was newly married and pregnant, and just when she thought life couldn’t get any better she was told she was carrying twin girls.

Excited and scared at the same time Rebekah and her husband Safraz waited anxiously for the day when their baby girls would be born into the world.

The day came, but the birthing experience was so harrowing for the young mother she is not sure she wants more children. Rebekah believes that the midwife who assisted her in the delivery process at the Georgetown Public Hospital damaged her uterus as she attempted to remove one of the twins with her hand as the child appeared stuck. The raptured uterus, according to the mother, resulted in severe bleeding, and her children were discharged before she was. Even today she is unsure as to whether she can have more children.

But for all the pain and bleeding Rebekah was happy that babies Mary and Martha had been delivered safely and all she wanted was to be the best mother to them.

Fast forward three years and the young couple is still struggling to accept that their daughters are deaf, as it is news that no parents want to hear. “I still praying and asking God that it is not true…to tell you when deh doctor tell me, I didn’t believe and now like I still ain believe,” Rebekah told the Sunday Stabroek in a recent interview.

When Rebekah was given the news the family was living in Hog Island but they have since moved to Tuschen as they were advised that the children should be taken to the hospital for speech therapy twice per month. However, the high cost of transportation saw the visits being reduced to once a month.

Even then it was still hard for the family as only Safraz works and he does not have a permanent job. “We use to try, but it was hard and more hard because like we don’t know how to talk to dem; like dem nah understanding and is like we don’t want people know. Like dem does do all kind a things and like…it just hard and because a dah I don’t tek dem by nobody…” Rebekah said close to tears as she looked at her daughters.

As if she knew her mother was talking about her one of the twins crawled into her lap and looked at her then looked at this reporter before resting her head on her mother’s breast.

“Up to now many a days I still crying because like I can’t believe…”

Rebekah and Safraz love their daughters but they felt they could not give them the assistance they needed until they were told that there is a school that offers assistance to deaf children.

Accepted

Without hesitation Rebekah and Safraz approached the Tuschen Deaf Academy and their children were immediately accepted. Mary and Martha became the youngest students of the school that caters specifically for deaf children.

When the Sunday Stabroek visited, the twins were seated at a custom-built table on which their names were pasted. They were dressed in their bright orange uniforms, with a skirt, waistcoat, tie and shirt, and were filling in their colouring book with crayons.

“I am so happy I find this school, is not long, but dem learning and I learning too now; I can tell dem some things and dem understanding,” Rebekah said with reference to the sign language they are learning.

She was sitting a little distance away from the children who by now were fighting for crayons as they both wanted the same colour. Their father Safraz tried to bring peace, but it took Rebekah’s calmness to put an end to the fight although she said it is not always like that. Sometimes, however, she becomes very frustrated.

She said that her children can now recite the alphabet by sign language and they can also count from one to twenty.

The Tuschen Deaf Academy does not have a building and is operated at the side of Azim Bacchus’s home. At the moment it has ten children and two teachers who teach the pupils.

Azim and his wife Naz are the administrators of the school, which receives support from the Guyana Deaf Association and the Ministry of Education, and their daughter Asiyah along with Anita Lall are the teachers.

Asiyah herself is deaf and is the youngest of the Bacchus children; it is because of her they started the school as they wanted other children who are also deaf  to benefit from some form of education.

The school was opened six years ago with the assistance of Sabine McIntosh, President of the Guyana Deaf Association, who met Bacchus while her granddaughter and his daughter attended the Diamond Special School.

“Right now we just happy we could do this; rain or shine the children coming and right now we can’t do without our children,” Bacchus said, referring to the students of the school. He added that there are days when the children are reluctant to leave for home as they prefer to remain and interact with their classmates who understand them.

‘She is special’

The couple described their youngest child who is now 19 as “special” and said when they found out she was deaf they never attempted to hide her, but wanted to give her the best they could provide. Their drive to give her some opportunity saw the couple relocating to Diamond to ensure she attended school, as it was difficult to travel from Tuschen on a daily basis.

It was while they pushed for their daughter that Azim said they realized how many other children, especially those on the East Bank of Essequibo, were not given the same opportunity.

It was Azim and McIntosh who helped to establish the Tuschen school and he recalled that they walked around Tuschen looking for children and adults, and invited them to attend the school. He recalled that even a woman who was 40 years old attended the school, while some other students were old as 20.

Their daughter now assists in teaching the children and speaking to this newspaper through Sabine she related that she is happy to assist the young children.

The children are taught sewing and academic subjects ‒ mainly Mathematics and English ‒ and they also play chess.

So committed is the couple to the school that Naz Bacchus said they always ensure that one of them is around as “we don’t want to leave our children alone.”

“Hear, I love my daughter and so I love them too,” she continued as she looked at the children who were sitting nearby.

She said her daughter loves sewing and at 19 she wished that there were other avenues for her to further her formal education. “She could do everything, and if I sick she would take care of me. She helps us a lot, and so is not because she deaf we must just leave she like that; we never think so…” Naz said.

She believes that because they never “hide she away” that her daughter excelled and continues to excel. She was always at the top of her class at the Diamond School and is a very good chess player and has won the finger spelling bee competition.

Asiyah is so committed to the students that she would hold their hands, regardless of their age, and teach them to write.

“We just want her to continue to help the deaf community, that is all we does ask God because them need the help. Some parents don’t know what to do and that is why they does hide them children; we want all of that to change…” the mother said.

The couple spoke of a 14-year-old deaf girl in their community who had a baby and said they wished more could have been done for her as she was raped, and now there is a baby to be taken care of. The perpetrator of the rape cannot be held accountable because the child cannot speak.

“These children all eager to learn, let me tell you none of them is challenged academically,” Azim Bacchus said.

Speaking for herself Asiyah said she likes to cook and said she would like to do more for students in English, Mathematics and Social Studies.

It is expected that the school would in the near future have its own building and more children would be accommodated. For now people like Rebekah and Safraz are just happy to have somewhere they can take their children and receive some much needed assistance in terms of  learning.

“We just happy for this school because to tell you the truth we didn’t know what else to do, but now we get lil hope,” the young mother said.

She knows it is not going to be easy, but believes it is a start.

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