Third visit with the Afghanistan National Deaf Association (ANAD) and the school they are running in Kabul. Not much has changed. This project may be the most difficult to accomplish – but potentially the most rewarding.
We have been working to acquire land, twice having it fall through or be deemed unacceptable. The deaf have very few advocates in Afghanistan. 10,000 deaf are estimated, and there are three small schools operating that service close to 1,000. All three working privately, with donors and partnering with NGO’s to keep running without any governmental support.
This lack of support is frustrating for all concerned, but depressingly highlighted during a visit with representatives of ANAD with current Afghan President, Hamid Karzai a month ago. The representatives of ANAD are deaf, and as such attended the meeting with a signing translator and a Dari interpreter. The purpose was to get permission on a parcel of government owned land in Kabul on which to build a school for the deaf. At an early stage in the meeting, Karzai asked his aide, what are those people doing with their hands? When it was explained that they were deaf, and that this is how they communicate, he started crying (he is quite emotionally at times like these) and expressing his surprise and shame that he didn’t know there were deaf in Afghanistan. Shocking and yet, not surprising.
So a parcel of land was offered at a greatly reduced cost for the deaf school. Paperwork was drawn up, but until money exchanges hands, or the land is built upon, there is the worry that this could be given away to someone else at the drop of a hat.
When I went back to visit ANAD and discuss next steps, the blueprints and paperwork was proudly shown and we piled into a minivan to make the long, bumpy, and dusty ride out to an area of Kabul I’d never seen. The area is vast and empty, a proverbial desert in the middle of a bustling city. The land is a large parcel, and would allow for the school, teacher training building, and a small guesthouse. The main road is on the city’s master plan to be fully paved which would shorten the commute greatly. We walked the land and discussed possibilities, but the main issue being the land cost. We are fundraising here to raise money for the school and staff, but the land cost is a hefty curveball.
Despite the continued hard work to secure land, this is a project that is desperately needed. As Karzai, himself, illustrated, Afghanistan is unaware of its own deaf community. In fact, I’d venture to say, that there isn’t a deaf community. Not really. Not like we see in other countries. The deaf here are living in silence, with its own government unaware of its very existence. There is little advocacy for this population, and virtually none outside Kabul and Jalalabad. The steps forward are more difficult that building schools for girls, women at risk, or teacher training programs. More difficult even than working in the women’s prisons. This group cannot communicate without the aid of translators, and there are a handful in the country. More schools can’t be built until more teachers are found and trained. The three small schools that are taking students, are working towards communication, not a complete education. There are gaping holes that need to be filled, and it will take an enormous amount of support, funding, and partnering with the deaf communities outside of Afghanistan to mentor them into developing a viable and thriving community within its borders. A focus on communication, literacy, and vocation skills are needed immediately while a more comprehensive curriculum can be developed over time and with qualified teachers.
Until then, these children will continue to live in silence.