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"It was like the whole universe came together" - My Take by Ruma Roka, founder, Noida Deaf Society

What led Ruma Roka, who has no background or personal experience coping with a disability, to think of empowering deaf and hard of hearing children and youth? In My Take this week, the founder of Noida Deaf Society, shares her story.

Maybe it's my upbringing or because I am a practicing Buddhist, but I always had a desire to do something good, something of value. I was thinking about starting a school and was exploring ideas in my head, when on a Sunday afternoon, I saw this woman on TV read the news in Indian Sign Language. That set me off on my journey.

It took me as long as four months to find a place where I could learn ISL and that opened up a whole new world. The kind of stories I heard from parents and young people threw up the many challenges the deaf community in India face - no real education in the Deaf Schools, unaware parents, and the lack of ​choices and support systems for them. I knew I had to do something, and I ​found I had the means as well. That was the start of the Noida Deaf Society.

It was like the whole universe came together for me. An insurance policy matured at the time and I had a small flat in Noida and I told my husband I needed it for the school. It made me realize how fortunate we are and that there is another world that has nothing.

Making it happen

But there were obstacles as well and they were all human-related, but I must add that handling them led to my growth. One, was ​with the parents of the deaf children themselves.

The thing about Deafness is that it's an invisible disability, no one sees it unless the child raises his or hand ​to communicate. Parents are conditioned to ​believe think they must me mainstreamed, must be made to speak. But the kids had been put through speech therapy and were struggling to speak because they could not hear their own voice.

I would tell the parents that ​what every parent wished for their child was for them to develop into capable individuals. It is about giving them ​relevant skills ​and knowledge and helping them lead their lives ​with dignity. They were resistant ​at first, and I said just give me six months ​to teach them in Indian Sign Language. You will see a change in them.

They ​eventually realized that the child had less anger issues, was more connected to the family. Earlier the child did not even know who he or she was, what made them happy or sad.

The ​mindset of the ​Deaf ​youth was also a​ challenge - because for years they had been living ​lives which gave them no opportunity for any kind of development or growth. They went to schools, but ​were unable to hear their teachers voices and had no idea of the world around them. If I had not gone through that experience of understanding lives as it were, I would not have been ​able to make any difference.

What I love about ISL is that it is so expressive. You are not using just one faculty, but all your senses. When deaf people talk about their lives, the grammar is in their bodies, in their faces. You are using every part of your body to express and how beautiful is that. Everything is expressed as a story, it's like a story telling form. That triggered me to create a curriculum for them. I knew that this way I could train them professionally.

Enabling at many levels

We have training at different levels for different ages. We teach them to read and write with separate curriculums depending on their needs. We also teach them functional grammar/English, so they have basic communication skills. There is also technical training in courses like mobile repair, MS Office. They develop skills for finger eye coordination, which are useful in the job market. Alongside, we teach them GK, value education, soft skills, hygiene, and grooming.

It's like a home ​where they not only learn but get the nurturing and Love of a home environment. No child is turned away because they lack language skills. They are simply put in small foundation-level courses. Most kids stay with us for a year and go from one course to the next after which we place them in jobs.

We also work with government-aided deaf schools in many states. We are sending our trained Deaf trainers to teach ISL to the teachers at the deaf schools. We are working in many cities in Rajasthan, UP, Haryana and Odisha.

It's been many years now and a there is a long journey ahead, but what endures is the sense of satisfaction. There is this flutter I still get when a child in the primary school learns to communicate and says, "Hi Ruma." Or when they come and tell us they have found a job.

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