Report of one of the volunteers.
A Year Full of Colours
(The experience of Ramesh de Silva, who spent one year as a volunteer in the Dr. Reijntjes School for the Deaf in Moratuwa, Sri Lanka.)
What I can say for sure about this year is that I have become more colourful. I don’t refer here to my new wardrobe, which I gathered at the famously cheap Colombo clothes shops before my return. I also don’t think that this actually shows in the Art work that I have done with the children of the Deaf School. It is more a question of my mind, which has broadened considerably while I was working in the Dr. Reijntjes School for the Deaf.
My experience with deaf had been limited to seeing them on the underground in my home town and watching a movie called Beyond Silence which deals with the problems between a hearing girl and her deaf parents. Even my experience with children was rather limited, since I have no younger siblings and never was baby-sitting or worked in a youth club.
But suddenly I was there among them on the lawn in front of the school and realized if I didn’t make a problem out of my lack of experience myself the children wouldn’t either.
I just was there, willing to commit myself to them and suddenly everything came naturally. They waved at me, grimaced at me and whizzed of in their sign language, which suddenly made perfect sense. And I pantomimed back acting out the words I needed, while my head was turned and my arms where twisted to focus my attention on every single one. One lesson I learnt that day itself: If you don’t look it is as if nothing happened, since no communication is possible. That is how I opened my eyes.
I learnt Sign Language, Sinhalese lip reading and writing and how to make visual jokes or scold without sound. Actually it was more like rediscovering what I had known as a child and forgotten. Working with the children made me see mixing colours again as a little wonder, the night walks home through starlight and glowworms had a much grater impact on me and the busy streets became threatening again. As a matter of fact I started judging everything every subject by the possibility of presenting it visually to my children. If something happened to me outside school I automatically checked how I would pantomime that the next evening when I was asked where I had gone.
After 10 months of work in the Deaf School I saw that the movie that had first lifted part of my ignorance towards deaf was being shown at the German Cultural Institute and I invited Tineke (the principal) and some of the teachers and pupils to come along. Suddenly I could see all the issues of being deaf in a hearing world that I had overlooked when watching it before. The difficulty of communicating with the outside world, the problem of understanding what was going on when the own mind worked in a different pattern or just the noises made unconsciously throughout the day.
One year in the Deaf School and I haven’t only learnt to review the visual but also to appreciate my ability to hear. When looking for the right music to accompany a pantomime drama, playing in the symphony orchestra in Colombo or going through the jungle I started listening more carefully.
On my trips through Sri Lanka my new interests in deaf education and psychology made me enter other deaf schools to find out how they dealt with the same issues. And I surely will drop in at such an institution in Germany once I am back. This little report is just a very subjective view on a small aspect of Dr. Reijntjes School for the Deaf.
Ramesh de Silva, a volunteer from Germany, who was for one year, July 2001 – July 2002, in the Dr. Reijntjes School for the Deaf, Moratuwa, Sri Lanka.