Bringing Sound to a Silent World

Bringing Sound to a Silent World

Bringing Sound to a Silent World

By Author Cat Wheeler

BRINGING SOUND TO A SILENT WORLD Author: Cat Wheeler Bali is place of constant sound. Rejoicing roosters punctuate the days and amorous frogs take over after dark. Gamelans and prayers weave scarves of resonance in the darkness. The hum of traffic underlies the shouts of playing children, the barking of dogs, the ringing of hand phones. But many Balinese have never heard these everyday sounds. They live in the silent world of the hearing impaired or profoundly deaf. Typically, tropical countries have higher rates of deafness than more temperate lands. Children are more prone to high fevers and infections which can cause permanent hearing loss. So can head injuries and motorcycle accidents. But perhaps the greatest cause of deafness here is genetic. A congenital recessive gene for deafness was already widely distributed in the population here before the Dutch arrived. The Dutch carry the same mutation, which increases the occurrence of hearing impairment. Because it’s a recessive gene, two hearing parents can have hearing-impaired children. Bali has five poorly funded government schools for the deaf (SLBB). Many of the children had been abandoned and became boarders, or prefer to stay at the school for social reasons. The schools lack facilities and the teachers lack resources –- they have no specialized training or equipment to deal with these children. Until recently the classrooms were bare and none of the child had hearing aids. These children were assumed to be deaf because they couldn’t talk — none of them had ever had their hearing tested. Although Indonesia has a form of Sign Language, the teachers don’t know it so it’s not taught to the children. No one knows for sure, but an educated guess places only about 10% of the island’s deaf children in such facilities, modest as they are, with the others being kept at home. In Bali as in much of Asia, a physically or mentally disabled child is regarded as shameful to the family, and is often kept out of sight without any kind of support. Adrienne Oberoi, the hearing daughter of two deaf parents, volunteered to talk to the parents of the deaf children at SLBB (special government schools for disabled children) in Jimbaran. “I tried to give them an idea of what it was like to have deaf parents, and what the deaf are capable of,” she says. “They had so many questions, there are no resources for them. The visit made me realize the strides we’ve made in the West. The public perception of deafness here is similar to what my deaf mother and grandmother experienced early in the last century.” Lumina, a private Indonesian company, established a hearing clinic in Denpasar in 2003. Since then, Lumina’s programs have expanded to open the curtain of silence for hundreds of Balinese. Business partners Nick Liem, an Indonesian-born Canadian and Vikki McKay, a Canadian hearing expert, and Jim Renshaw, owner of AIM Companies Canada, brought the first batch of hearing aids to Bali in early 2004. Now all of the children in SLBBs except those in Gianyar have had their hearing tested. Of the 450 children on the caseload, 250 have been fitted with hearing aids; the other 200 are profoundly deaf. YKIP through the ALF Foundation, a Bali-based foundation that assists children in need, sponsors the cost of many hearing aids, hearing services and the batteries for all the hearing aids and supports other Lumina hearing programs. “It was clear that we needed to start seeing children when they were much younger,” says Vikki, who has worked in audiology sine 1988. “The auditory-verbal language system closes down at about age 10. Children can’t learn to speak after that, so it’s essential to start working with them as young as possible, preferably before they are one year old.” So Lumina started Sushrusa in Denpasar, a preschool for hearing-impaired children. Each child is tested, provided with a hearing aid and taught a total communication system which includes sign language, lip reading, speech and expressive language. “If we can get the kids young enough, with good care and interactive parents, they can learn to speak,” Vikki points out. After preschool, these children enter the SLBB system, and Lumina is working to help improve the teaching standards and access to resources in these schools. If children learn sign language, it’s important that the whole family learn it too. There are benefits to learning to sign; hearing kids who learn to sign language first are able to learn other languages more easily. Even babies can learn to communicate with sign language before they can speak. “The deaf are socially isolated in ways that hearing people can never understand,” Adrienne points out. “As a child, I was the sole interpreter for my parents. I used sign language to convey conversations or things that were happening on TV. I know how much information they missed; deaf people never receive full information. People watching us assumed that I was deaf too, and treated me differently. “I met a young man of 23 at the SLBB dormitory. He had a job washing dishes at a five star hotel and was very pleased about it; deaf people here have no role models and their expectations of what they can achieve are low. He never went back to his village because he couldn’t communicate with anyone there. His social community was the hearing impaired. Although they can’t communicate fully, they understand each other.” There are currently no statistics on the number of hearing-impaired people in Bali. The Indonesian government has a country-wide hearing program aimed at improving hearing health, including infant screening, but this initiative, together with Lumina’s, are only reaching a small fraction of the children in need. Lumina’s work will augment and enable the government programs by bringing access to equipment, transportation and education. Lumina will collect data and establish a centrally managed databank at Sanglah, providing statistics on Bali’s hearing impaired and deaf population for the first time. Nick, a German-trained engineer, has designed a sound booth (a specialized hearing testing room). A large sound booth has been built to international standards and installed at Sanglah, four smaller ones at SLBB schools and three at the Lumina clinic in Denpasar. These sound booths are unique in Indonesia, and include a modular, collapsible model that can be transported to remote clinics and hospitals and constructed on-site. Lumina plans to seek funding to enable a broad-based community screening program. As Nick and Vikki deepened the scope of their projects in Bali, they realized that the young adults leaving the government schools had nowhere to go and no skills to offer. Deaf children and adults are very vulnerable. Many have no family or resources and often end up on the street. Because they can’t communicate, they are easy targets for abuse, traffickers and sexual predators. The teachers at the special schools have no idea what happens to the young adults after they leave. Nick and Vikki conceived an ambitious project to build a training centre for in the village of Catur on Kintamani to create sustainable livelihoods for the deaf on Bali. The project goals are to train hearing impaired/deaf Balinese and the villagers of Catur in the humane and environmentally sustainable breeding and raising of pigs for the market and later for meat and other products. Associated skills will include farm planning and administration, waste management, construction, animal husbandry, fodder cultivation, accounting, veterinary skills, artificial insemination, fish/eel/frog farming, health inspection, natural fertilizer production, methane gas production, farm tours, butchering, meat processing, leather production and others. The community of Catur will benefit through access to trades and training, jobs and a more robust local economy. A Yayasan is being established to administer the project. The teaching/training component will incorporate recognized trade certification and the operation itself will be a viable business with all profits supporting the project. The development of the pig farm will provide training plus profitable and sustainable business opportunities for participants so they will be able to live independently. There are also many associated spin-off economic opportunities for the community. Beneficiaries of the project will be selected from young adults graduating from the government schools for the deaf, and the 1800 villagers in the Catur area. One hectare of land has been contracted for 50 years for the project. A RAM pump (requiring no fuel) was installed to bring river water to the construction phase of the project and to supply villagers living near the site who previously had no easy access to water. Electricity has been supplied and construction begun on the administration/training building which will be followed by dormitories and pig stalls. A large rainwater catchment roof/cistern system will supply the water for washing the pigs and cleaning the stalls. The pig waste will be channelled into two anaerobic digesters which will produce methane gas to meet lighting and cooking needs for the project, plus compost for the gardens. The pigs will be raised humanely and given chemical-free feed, much of it locally produced. You can see why I like this project. The journey of supporting Bali’s deaf to becoming functioning members of their community will be long and complex. There are many facets to Lumina’s work, and many opportunities to become involved. Lumina means to bring light. We can all play a role in illuminating the darkness, and bringing sound to a silent world. It costs about US$ 500 to purchase two hearing aids and about US$ 250 a year to sponsor a hearing-impaired child for, regular hearing tests, earmolds and a supply of batteries. Sponsoring a hearing-impaired child to attend Sushrusa preschool costs $35 a month, call Lumina at 262035. To become involved in the skills training facility in Catur either as a volunteer or a donor, contact hlliem@hotmail.com And if you have any information about teacher training for the deaf, please contact me at bali_cat7@yahoo.com
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Bringing Sound to a Silent World

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