Over the past four years with my newfound deaf identity, I’ve always wanted to do something different yet challenging and fun that gave back to the deaf community in some way. Volunteering overseas in a deaf school was an opportunity my deaf boyfriend and I discovered through Voluntears. It’s a UK organization which specializes in organizing overseas trips to developing countries for deaf people. We signed up together for a two week trip to Nepal, an adventure of a lifetime!
As an avid traveler, I’ve been to Africa, America, and Europe. Asia has been on my list for some time. This group trip was the perfect opportunity. Our group was made up of 10 deaf and hearing people (now friends for life!), along with a sign language interpreter and trip leader.
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After a few days of sightseeing around Nepal came our time to visit the deaf school. We boarded the Deaf School Bus (you can’t miss it!) with the teachers and students.
On arrival, the teachers greeted us with a traditional Nepali welcome and we sat down to learn about the school. It was the holidays, so it was touching that the teachers and students made the commitment to come and see us.
It struck me that deafness is quite common in Nepal, as a result of common meningitis illness and a lack of knowledge of they types of medication that cause deafness, among other causes. We were told there are around six deaf schools in Nepal. The one we were at had 200 students ranging from ages 4 to 18. Most of the teachers were deaf. Along with the students, they all communicate in Nepalese Sign Language (NSL). Post-education, the students either seek employment, go to university in Nepal, or if they can afford it, travel abroad to Gallaudet University in America.
I was stunned to hear that the government funds the deaf schools in Nepal, unlike the UK! This is amazing for the students to be able to have an accessible education.
“I was stunned to hear that the government funds the deaf schools in Nepal, unlike the UK!”
There’s nothing like being greeted with a sea of happy, excited faces!
The students loved meeting us. We began a host of fun activities and icebreakers to get to know each other. It was simple things like a football or a skipping rope that meant a lot to them. This made me realize what we have at home that we take for granted.
Spending this time with them, I noticed how proud the children were of their deafness. The pace at which they signed in their own language was incredible. They were willing to communicate with us, meeting somewhere between British Sign Language (BSL) and NSL, which was strikingly similar to American Sign Language (ASL), with one-handed signs. In the end, we were mostly communicating through gestures as my knowledge of ASL is limited!
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Another volunteer and I led a painting class for younger children, encouraging them to be creative and paint artwork that meant something to them. It was beautiful to see their paintings, but I think they enjoyed painting their hands and uniform more (Whoops!)!
One of the purposes of our trip was to carry out some renovation work in the school. We were tasked with doing up the staff room, which was in major need of some TLC. The goal was to get it ready to welcome the teachers back after the holidays.
For four days of the trip, we got down to it. From sanding the walls to filling holes — which I’ve never had experience with before — and finally painting the walls to turn it into a practical space.
It was rewarding to see the teachers happily using the space for their important meetings and break times!
At the end of the trip, I gladly presented some donations of toys and coloring materials to the headmistress, kindly donated by Phonak and ToyLikeMe. She was delighted and the children loved playing with them. It was an absolute joy to watch.
After two weeks in Nepal, I returned home to the UK back to the daily grind. It was harder to adapt back home, believe it or not!
The trip will stay with me forever and has changed me as a person. Exploring a different culture, especially in a developing country, made me realize how fortunate we are at home. With the deaf connection, it meant a whole lot more to me than other holidays have.
Visiting the deaf school has given me more confidence and determination in life to make positive change. It has highlighted the motivation I have to share my stories to inspire others to give back too.
Have you volunteered abroad? Share your experiences in the comments!