On July 27, 2009, Carolyn Y. Woo, Martin J. Gillen Dean of the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame, arrived in Islamabad, Pakistan, as part of a 10-day journey to observe the work of Catholic Relief Services in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Woo, a CRS board member, traveled from major cities to remote villages in the two countries, seeing first-hand CRS’s relief work aimed at improving education, agriculture, water resources and other significant humanitarian needs. The following Asking More Commentary entry offers a personal account of Dean Woo’s visit and her personal observances of the countries, the people and CRS’ relief efforts.
Aug. 4, 2009
On my last day in Kabul, Afghanistan, we woke up to the news of seven rockets that had been launched into the city by the Taliban at 4:30 a.m. But nothing can dampen the enthusiasm of the highlight of the
day: a visit to the school for deaf children. This school is funded with the Rauenhorst Foundation grants and Caritas Italy.
The school is such an island of joy and hope. The building is heaven to 250 children from kindergarten through fifth grade. We visited with the administrators who told us the startup story of how two deaf Afghan adults met in refugee camp in Pakistan and decided that they should do something for deaf children. When they returned, they petitioned and got a one-room office in the Ministry. Parents came, and soon it was clear that a school for the deaf was needed. These individuals have since developed a dictionary for Afghan/ English sign language with 4,000 words (including “halogen”).
The children, of course, are the stars. Remember that these would be the “castaways” in their society. Some of the older kids would be washing clothes (girls) or pulling carts / hauling loads (boys). They would not have any way of communicating their thoughts or be able to access the world of words and ideas. But there they were in uniforms (black tunic, pants with white scarves for girls; and shirt/pants for boys/young men). The class sizes are small with about 12-15 kids assigned to a teacher. We first visited the fifth grade class of young men. They look on average to be about 14-17. It was their science class and tuberculosis was the topic of the day. The students were all very engaged and let us know how much they enjoyed science because it helps them understand the world around them. ENTHUSIASM is the hallmark of every class: eyes sparkling, in tune and completely engaged as if in the midst of a Harry Potter story. It was no different here.
Then we visited classes in English (some words learned were “table,” “umbrella,” “X-ray,” and so on). We attended a fourth grade class of young men in drawing: the subject was a minaret of a mosque. The drawings were superb. Then we visited several girls’ classes in arithmetic and math (from simple addition and subtraction to multiplication for the third-graders). They were acting out their thinking and calculations with fingers and gestures that were flying with gusto and confidence. Kids were raising their hands to go to the board. They “clapped” when there were right answers. And yes, wrong answers were amended. We were at three drama classes and they could win the acting awards. So funny and so full of life. One class had an empty plastic Coke bottle in the middle and each kid was to pretend it was something else. The boys we watched were about 7-9 years old; one held the bottle as a baby, one a guitar (and he strummed and danced); one a trumpet; one a hand-held rocket launcher. The last one got “dissed” by the classmates! Another drama class featured a bird that helped rescue a mammal, which in turn saved the bird when it was targeted by hunter. In another skit, pretend-parents tried to get kids to study or do something virtuous. The “mother” was pulling her hair out as a gesture!! (Do kids in all cultures think that of their mothers?) When we left, a class of girls was playing soccer in the yard!
The kids were flushed with laughter and pride. They had “attitude” – the type that says, “We are achieving and we know it.” Their request to us is to bring video tapes of deaf kids in other parts of the world so that they know they are not alone. It’s a bit early for “placement” studies but a young man who finished the program is now an IT person in an NGO; a number of young women are teachers at the school in the morning as they go to their fifth grade classes in the afternoon. Parents and teachers also receive training. So this is the picture of HOPE and of lives that find their dignity, purpose and expressions.
There is no way to quantify the harvest, as this is in the end God’s call.