17 Days and Counting

22 May

Mala arrived two nights ago! Volunteering at Rohana Special School is fun, but it’s always so much better when you’ve got a buddy, a partner to do it with, and I’m lucky that I get to have Mala around for the next two and a half weeks.

Wait a minute. That’s all that’s left? Just 17 days? I thought I was here for four weeks, but it was really just three weeks and four days, and now more than a week has passed in Matara. I’m surprised and disappointed; nine months really is different than three and a half weeks and I’m already staring at my itinerary, making sure I really leave on the 9th and not the 19th.

The children and my friends in Matara know this, too, but they’re okay with it because I’ve conveniently placed the blame for my short stay not on myself, but on my to-be university for starting classes so early in the summer!

Another time-related issue is that the school has been essentially shut down since I arrived. Although the Wesak holiday was last Monday and Tuesday, many famiilies have decided to keep their pupils home for the rest of this week; Sri Lankan schools have very lax attendance policies! So school doesn’t officially begin again until next Monday the 26th. Mala and I will finally be able to observe classes and jump into the usual daily routine then.

Especially due to the short time I’ve left in Sri Lanka, it is fortunate that I’ve already planned out what will happen the next two weeks.

Via discussions with Naizer, the president of the Ruhunu Sumaga Circle of the Deaf, the deaf association representing the south of Sri Lanka, we will begin filming a sign language video dictionary every morning for two weeks. I’ll provide the camera and supplies (t-shirts, backgrounds), while the deaf association will provide sign language models and linguistic oversight. I will then give over the footage to the school’s new IT teacher, Kasun, who will then work through the summer assembling the dictionary program, to be completed in August and freely distributed on DVD to the school community and throughout Sri Lanka via the provincial deaf associations.

That’ll be in the mornings. In the afternoons, with Mr. Abeygunawardana’s approval, I’ll be teaching a Deaf Studies class for two hours to pupils in Years 6 through 9. (Years 10 and 11 are in vocational training classes every afternoon) I’m looking forward to this challenge of talking about Deaf culture and identity in a language that isn’t my own, and Mala and I will keep brainstorming ideas of how the children can take advantage of what they’ve learned after the Deaf Studies class is completed. I’m not entirely sure how this can be turned into a sustainable programme at Rohana instead of an one-time deal, so that’s something else for Mala and I to consider.

The next two weeks promise to be full of activity and challenge. Little projects we hope to accomplish include securing funds for new murals on the front wall of the school campus, providing new bedsheets for the hostels, discovering what happened to Kasun, the deaf boy I helped enroll in school last year (he stopped coming last October), capturing more Sri Lankan deaf persons and families on videotape for my personal ethnography project, persuading the school to hire deaf matrons, introducing an afternoon activity timetable for residential children, and more.

A note re SMS: I am having problems contacting my American family and friends via SMS messaging. So far, I’ve only been able to get in touch with three people in the USA. Feel free to send me a test text message at +94775520223 and see if it goes through (and even if it does, I might not even be able to send you a response!).

3 Responses to “17 Days and Counting”

  1. ella mae lentz 22. May, 2008 at 10:55 pm #

    Love the plan for the dictionary, utilizing native Deaf Sri Lankans as sign models and doing oversight and you working the camera and settings! Way to go, ma friend.
    And yes let us know how the Deaf Studies mini-course turns out. They re lucky and far ahead of most of American schools!

  2. jaliya jayawardena 23. May, 2008 at 2:17 am #

    Please contact Mr V Ramanah at ramanah@infolume.com

    He is leading an ICTA e-Society funded (http://www.icta.lk/esdi) project to create a video dictionary of 2000 words in Sri Lankan Sign language

    The signs and lip movements are video taped and shown with the word and a picture to help association

    The 2000 words (signs and lip movements) have completed filming now

    They are now being assembled into a self learning CD which will be given to students and teachers and siblings so that they can learn sign language

    The content and CDs will be freely given out as it is a government project

    You can speak to either Mr Ramanah or myself as we would love to share this with you

    PS: The computer lab/speech therapy lab at Rohana which was recently opened was also an ICTA e-Society funded project, partnered with Loadstar

  3. DE 23. May, 2008 at 5:57 am #

    Yes! A good idea- a video dictionary- how very 21st century! Hats off to you & the Sri Lanka Deaf community.