I have traveled to many places, all over the world, but the experience of visiting the Hosanna School For the Deaf is one that has both humbled me and changed the way I think about so many things that I have taken for granted in my life.
At first glance the school resembles a rustic type of summer camp. As we turn off the dusty dirt road, past the wandering goats and cattle, through the gates of the property, I think to myself, "What kind of school is this? How can children learn here? What knowledge can I possibly bring that would be of any value to this place, so very different from everything I know?"
As the van pulls up to the building where I would be lecturing, I watch the children as they amble out the doors after finishing their morning prayer service. I see their mismatched clothes and their dusty shoes. Their curious stares as they watch the strangers from America walk past them. If I’m to be honest, I am staring too. Just as curious. I notice a few quick waves and smiles. I smile back and walk into the building.
The room is full. Filled with people who are so very welcoming, eager to learn, and who genuinely care about the children, as well as each other. For as I was soon to learn, this is a culture of caring. A culture of giving and helping and community. A culture that has so very little, but is willing to share whatever they do have. A culture with many burdens and responsibilities that are always borne with a smile.
Although ASL is different from their Ethiopian Sign Language, they all approach me with a shy ASL, "Good Morning". I respond back with a greeting from their language, and they smile. Respect is shown on both sides. It’s a good start. I meet Tadessa, the Principal of the school. He is a quiet man and very much respected. The children love him. He is like a father figure to them. Pastor Baharook and his family are there as well. He starts us with a morning prayer.
I am joined by a Teacher of the Deaf from the university, Esau. He will help me with interpreting. Later, as the comfort level increases, we will have other volunteers to practice their interpreting.
We discuss Ethics, professional behavior, work practices, and respect for deaf and their needs. We break up into small groups for some ice breakers. I tell the deaf teachers to take the lead, and I see how both the deaf and hearing think that’s odd. Although these people are colleagues, there is a definite hierarchy. By the end of the week the deaf teachers are standing up to give their opinions, voicing their concerns, and talking about what they need from interpreters. I ask for a volunteer to be a deaf interpreter for me. It’s the first time they have seen how a deaf interpreter works. The deaf cheer. The focus shifts to a "Deaf Can" mentality. Hopefully I have planted some seeds in that area.
I am fortunate enough to be given a tour of the school. Some of the children follow. They want me to take their pictures so that they can see themselves on my phone. Of course I do.
As I walk around the area I feel a sense of family. The children and adults share a type of comfort and familiarity that is nice to see. I am able to visit the dorm areas. See how the children wash their own clothes outside, by fountains. The older children help the younger ones with hair and dressing. I walk past the prayer areas. The girls decided to build one near their dorm area. The boys then decided to build one. There is healthy competition in a lot of what they do. I am able to witness their Ethiopian coffee ceremony. Coffee is amazing.
There is a wood working area, clothes making area ( they make clothes for themselves), technology area, cosmetology area ( to learn as a trade), as well as regular class rooms. The children graduate with knowledge of English, Amharic, ASL, and Ethiopian sign language. They will also graduate with trade and life skill knowledge, as well as academics. It is hard for deaf people to find work here.
They cook over fires and in wood burning ovens. It makes me think of how Native Americans would cook. Peppers are a main part of the sauces they use. Injira, is the spongy flatbread they use as an eating utensil, to sop up food on a common plate. It’s made from Teff. There is another bread called Hambasha. It looks like huge pita, but tastes like crusty Italian bread. I was given some at the school. Delicious.
Despite the electricity and running water challenges, the not being able to eat fresh fruit or vegetables for fear of sickness, malaria nets, thieving monkeys, interesting restroom accommodations, crows visiting my room, unusual food choices (think sheep), and salamanders running across the floor, I feel so very lucky to have been able to make this trip.
I have learned so very much from the caring, giving, welcoming people of Ethiopia and the Hosanna School for the Deaf. About myself, different cultures, what is truly important, faith, sharing, perceptions, and most importantly, not to take anything for granted
I set out on this trip with a goal of teaching and sharing my knowledge, and ended up with the learning experience of my life.
I will forever keep the children and staff of the Hosanna school in my heart.