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Holy Land Institute for the Deaf: Pioneers in education for the deaf

By Jeremy Reynalds
web posted April 21, 2003

Brother Andrew de Carpentier vividly recalled his first days as director of the Holy Land Institute for the Deaf. The school was small; the children were underfed, and Jordanian government officials planned to shut down the institution.

That was 26 years ago. Today there is a thriving school of about 145 students, an audiology center, vocational training opportunities, and a teacher training program that provides services for instructors throughout the Middle East.

The school was started in 1964 by Brother Andeweg, a Dutch Anglican priest, and officially opened by the late King Hussein. Dutch native de Carpentier came from Beirut to take the helm in 1977.

In an Oct. 2001 article about the school in the Jordan Times, the reporter commented that the school had come a long way since its opening with prefabricated buildings.

"From the street, it does not really look like a school. But once inside, visitors are greeted by an open space surrounded by cool grey buildings, like stepping back in time into the courtyard from days gone by. Adults and children move quietly but purposefully between stone buildings trimmed in primary colors; it is definitely a space for children. But does the sense of peace come from the simple dignity of the architecture, or is it part of the unimaginable quiet world of the deaf?"

Brother Andrew de Carpentier "Over the years, things grew," de Carpentier said in an e-mail received by ASSIST News Service. "I thought this was fun – to start with nothing and end up with something."

The institute's mostly Jordanian students range from ages four to 20. Many of the primary school students do not know how to communicate when they first arrive, so teachers must train them in Jordanian sign language. Students also learn the typical reading, writing, arithmetic and arts and sciences learned at most schools.

By the time students are 13 or 14 years old, they must learn a trade. Jordan is still a very traditional society, so many of the skills students learn are gender specific. For example, boys learn subjects like auto mechanics, carpentry, painting, auto bodywork and metalwork. Girls usually learn homemaking skills, such as weaving, machine knitting, sewing and childcare.

A few vocational training subjects – computer skills, printing, ceramics and earmold manufacturing – are available for both genders.

Items and services produced by many of these classes are sold to the public. For example, folks can purchase blankets, clothes and wall tapestries portraying traditional Middle Eastern life. These are produced by students in the weaving, knitting and sewing classes.

Students involved in earmold manufacturing work in the school's two-year-old audiology clinic. There, they carefully drill grooves into the molds created from ear impressions made with foam. Then electronic amplifiers which send signals into the inner ear are added. The manufacturing center, which also produces ear plugs, is the only one of its kind in Jordan.

The clinic provides and repairs these earmolds for hearing impaired people throughout Jordan. It also offers free testing for Jordanians to indicate whether earmolds would help them. Though the clinic opened in January 2000, the institute's audiology program, known as Hearing Aids, Audiology, Resources (H.E.A.R.), is almost 10 years old.

Most of the center's clients are Jordanians who normally would not be able to afford hearing aids for their children, institute administrator Andreas Unbehauen explained. The institute often provides hearing aids at low cost, with the families paying just a little money to show they're taking responsibility for the investment, he said.

Many Jordanians have genetically related hearing problems resulting from intermarriage between cousins, Ubehauen said. However, they often blame themselves for their children's problems.

"In traditional areas, they think they often think they did something wrong – that it's a judgment from Allah," Ubehauen said.

SchoolThe school's deaf-blind unit is another one-of-a-kind service in Jordan. Volunteers and staff members help their clients, such as Mohammed and Bashir, both 10, and three-and-a-half-year old Noor, to better cope with a life without sight or sound.

Noor is a recent addition, and she is the only girl in the unit. She has spent much of her time recently away from the HLID, as doctors at the hospital consider whether she should undergo eye surgery.

Meanwhile, the two boys continue to learn through the sense of touch. A shelf with different cubby holes contains small objects that serve as symbols for daily activities. For example, a piece of tire tread in one cubby hole represents playing in the playground, because one of the playground swings are made of the tread-like material.

The shelf has seven levels, representing seven days, and each day is marked by a certain object, such as a cross for Sunday and a crescent moon for Friday.

"Basically ... we have to create order in their lives because their life is chaos," said Aline Zwanenburg, a volunteer in the deaf-blind unit.

Volunteers guide the boys through everyday life skills, such as cooking, using the bathroom and putting on a jacket. Now Mohammed can find his jacket and put it on by himself. Staff and volunteers also teach the boys sign language by guiding their hands. The boys identify volunteers by objects they wear, such as a piece of jewelry.

School officials are unable to keep up with the ever-increasing demand for services. With that in mind, de Carpentier wants to expand its ministry. For example, he hopes to open a Deaf Cultural Center in Bethany – the city where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. This center would serve as a meeting place for local deaf people and allow international cultural exchange. In addition, it would offer learning and tour guide training opportunities for deaf people who want to learn more about the Holy Land.

Plans for that center now are on hold because of a proposed wall that would run right through HLID's property in Bethany. The Israeli government has started building this wall to separate to Israel from the West Bank.

However, renovation work on an old hospital building at the Salt site is underway. The building will provide offices for the HLID's outreach program, Salt Training and Resource Institute for Disability Etc. – or STRIDE. It will also contain a teashop for tourists and a store that offers goods made by vocational training classes, eyeglasses and low vision aids. Someday de Carpentier dreams of building a similar store on property the institute owns along the Jordan River, where it is believed Christ may have been baptized.

De Carpentier continues to dream. He also has future plans for shops to sell goods made by the deaf, a Deaf Cultural Center in the West Bank town of Bethany, and new schools for deaf, blind and mentally handicapped students throughout the Middle East.

In addition, the institute plans to continue to extend its work into other countries. Officials are conducting teacher training and sign language workshops in places like Yemen, Iraq and Kurdistan – nations that de Carpentier refers to as the "ends of the earth." The school already works with about 50 schools and 800 students outside of Jordan.

Such service ministries constitute an exciting missions frontier – reaching out to disabled people in remote regions of the Middle East, de Carpentier said. The HLID director noted that six of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem's institutions, some 20 percent of all its facilities, already are disability - oriented.

"That's no small peanuts," he said. "This is major. But we've never really looked at it as such."

De Carpentier's eyes lit up as he pondered the endless ministry possibilities.

"Our hope is that the church will say, ‘Look, we've got all this, why not call it missions?' Now, we're back to square one, where we say, ‘Missions come from Jerusalem.'"

Those wanting additional information about this outreach can contact Nancy Dinsmore
of the Development Office of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem by e-mail at devedjer@netvision.net.il

Jeremy Reynalds is a freelance writer and the founder and director of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter. He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New Mexico and is pursuing his PhD in intercultural education at Biola University in Los Angeles. He is married with five children and lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His work can be viewed here and weekly at www.americasvoices.org. He may be contacted by e-mail at reynalds@joyjunction.org.

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