Last week, I hopped a bus out of Amman to the town of Salt in search of the Holy Land Institute for the Deaf. All I knew about the school fit into a few email exchanges between myself and a volunteer teacher from the U.S. named Brent, but it was enough to make me curious.

Upon arriving in Salt, I trekked up a hill and repeated what I could remember of the school title to people I passed, trying to find this place. Fortunately, the town is relatively small, and this school has a big enough reputation that people knew exactly what I was looking for.

Wafa and her student Morhaf

 

A Different Perception

Since arriving in Jordan, I’ve learned a bit about the local educations system. Unfortunately, it does little for students with disabilities, save the ones whose families can pay for private schools.

But the Holy Land Institute is different.

The Holy Land Institute for the Deaf houses over 150 students and is the largest school of its kind in the Middle East. In local culture, disabilities such as deafness have often been ignored and hidden away because they are “shameful,” but places like the Holy Land Institute are working to change this perception and educate children living with disability despite their income level.

Meet Mohammed

One of the dedicated staff helping make this possible is Brent, a one-year volunteer teacher from the Mennonite Central Committee who came to Jordan two years ago.

Brent and Mohammed talking as Mohammed types brail

Obviously, his plans have changed. After beginning his service, Brent decided to stay an extra two years to continue working as a teacher at the school—more specifically, to teach one very special student named Mohammed.

I met Brent in the school courtyard where we were quickly joined by 18 year-old Mohammed who found his way down the stairs and across the courtyard to meet us. This may not sound like a major accomplishment, but Mohammed’s circumstances are different than an average teenager’s: he’s blind and deaf.

Capable

Mohammed approached us and placed his hand on Brent’s, who first made the sign to identify himself and then explained they had a guest who is a woman. Mohammed reached his hand for mine, acknowledged me, then turned back for the classroom.

Brent and I followed him across the school and up the stairs to his classroom where he sat, ready for his next activity. I watched in amazement as Brent signed, Mohammed’s hands on his own hands enabling him to follow along. Eventually, Mohammed stood up, walked to the front of the room and began to search an empty bookshelf with his hands.

The Calendar box

“Oh, he’s not going to like this,” said Brent, “he said he wanted to Braille, so I told him to find the Brailler [a Braille typewriter], but it’s not where it should be.”

After searching the empty shelf, Mohammed turned and left the classroom. Part of me wanted to follow him to assist, but Brent seemed nonplused by the situation and stayed seated. I followed his lead. Within minutes, Mohammed returned with the Brailler in hand.

With Patience

Every interaction between Mohammed and Brent impressed me. Despite his circumstances, Mohammed can communicate emotions, type Braille, find his way around school and converse with others. Obviously, he’s had some seriously dedicated and patient help along the way.

“How does anyone who’s blind and deaf even begin to communicate?” I asked Brent, still trying to wrap my head around everything I was seeing.

Manal and her student Rahmeh

“I can show you,” he said.

We walked into the classroom set aside for deaf-blind education where a seven other students like Mohammed learn from individual teachers. Brent walked me to a table with a long, rectangular box separated into compartments, each holding a different object. He introduced it as the calendar system.

Each object represents an activity in the schedule (for example, a spoon means lunch). A child who is new to the program feels the object associated with the upcoming activity every day before the activity itself until the association is made. After a child makes an association between an object and an activity, they receive a sign.

And after years of diligence and patience, they may achieve the level of communication that Mohammed has.

Building a Bridge

The road is certainly a long one. Wafa, another teacher in the deaf-blind program introduced me to her four-year-old student Morhaf who was banging a plastic cup against his highchair tray.

“Right now, he thinks this is a toy,” Wafa told me through a sigh, pouring a little water in the cup from a water bottle, “but one day, he’ll understand that it’s for water and for drinking.”

Morhaf turned over the cup, adding another puddle to his tray. Wafa just smiled and shrugged her shoulders, prepping for another try. All of the teachers I met possessed the same patience and love for their students. They each work day in and day out for the betterment of one single child, building a bridge of communication into a person who would otherwise be cut off.

No Shame

Mohammed is one of many students served by the people of the Holy Land Institute. The school meets the needs of countless students who need a little extra accommodation in order to learn and develop important job skills. Students at the Holy Land Institute learn multiple subjects, eat in a cafeteria and enjoy recess like at any other school. In addition, they learn marketable skills like weaving and construction.

One of the students of the Holy Land Institute learning to sew

And most importantly, the school only charges a family what the family can afford to educate their child. This flexible payment system contrasts sharply with the often unaffordable government schools for children with disabilities in Jordan. The school relies on outside support and sponsorship to subsidize the price of boarding and educating their beloved students.

The Holy Land Institute represents more than education in Jordan—it represents a change in perspective and attitude towards disability. The school both nurtures and challenges its pupils in order to send them out into the world as autonomous adults.

Students of the Holy Land Institute are taught that there is no shame in disability. And hopefully, their presence in their communities in the future will show others as well.

Enjoy this post? Get future updates sent to you for free! Join by email or RSS

Next Steps
    • Interested in supporting a student? Your donation will help students like Mohammed receive a proper education.
    • Learn some sign language from this website. Even if you only get as far as hello, thank you, and how are you? it may help you communicate with someone who is deaf some day.
    • Pray for the teachers and students of the Holy Land Institute. Pray that the work of the school demonstrates just how valuable and intelligent the students really are.
    Next Steps

About the Author: Laura is a journalism fellow with World Next Door. She graduated from the University of Arizona, Tucson with a degree in Animal Sciences and a minor in Spanish. She is constantly learning, making friends, dancing, and trying to understand her role in alleviating the suffering of others. Laura also attracts a lot of awkward situations.

More posts by Follow Laura on Twitter


Comments

  1. Steve said... 

    Reply

    December 20th, 2011 at 10:53 am  

    Thanks Laura! So many of us want our mission or calling to be grand in scale. But for Brent and the other teachers, their calling right now is to help one student. Blessings to them for their willingness to step up and accept this life altering opportunity.

    • Laura Stump said... 

      Reply

      December 21st, 2011 at 6:13 pm  

      Amen! There is such significance in what these teachers are doing in the lives of the students they work with. It’s a good reminder that the “grand in scale” is not necessarily the most important thing.

  2. Phil Grizzard said... 

    Reply

    December 22nd, 2011 at 10:59 pm  

    Some might say they are helping “only” one person. But that’s all that each of us is — only one person. If we were that person in that situation, this type of care would mean absolutely everything to us. It would give us a life — the only life we know. I’m getting a little verklempt…

Leave a Reply