The Al-Aqila Primary School is a Shia Muslim school in Najaf, Iraq which aims to provide excellence in education for the region’s orphan and non-orphan children.
By Ammaar Habib Hussein, a student of the Higher Education Department (‘HED’) class at SI Madressa, Stanmore.
Following the HED workshop at SI Madressa on the effective Political Campaigning on 9th February 2015, participants Maisam-Reza Khaku (20), his brother Bilal (17) and I, identified the need for effective communication with the deaf community within our Shia centres.
After identifying the need for such a workshop, and having learnt the skills of political canvassing at the event, we took up the challenge to lead a workshop on deaf awareness for students and teachers in HED on 26th April.
The aim of the workshop was to have an interactive session where the participants experienced the opportunities and the challenges faced by members of the deaf community. We hoped this would create a change in behaviour of our community members by reinforcing the belief that deafness and any other physical impediment in a fellow human being should not prevent you to be able to fully engage with them.
We were all excited by this Deaf Awareness Event and spent time planning for it with enthusiasm. Maisam-Reza already had some previous experience in presenting to a large audience and so he felt very confident hosting the event. We felt encouraged and supported by our teachers and were very excited to see the posters go up. HED regularly encourages learners to present on subjects that are important to us and which we are passionate about.
As deaf students who had participated in HED, and gone through the GCSE program, we all believed that it was important for people to understand deafness and why it is so important to raise awareness within the Muslim community.
In our introductions, we spoke of whether we were born deaf or lost our hearing later on. This was a challenging task as it is very difficult to talk about something so personal though I felt it was important for the audience to understand.
Bilal talked about what it means to be deaf and fully engage with everyday activities and not just cope with them, but excel in them. He also set out a brief history on the evolution of understanding deafness and how we can take this forward.
Maisam-Reza talked about understanding how deaf people communicate with one another. For example, communication can be through British Sign Language (BSL), hand gestures and also body language. These are important indicators to those who are not deaf in gaining a better understanding of us not only as fellow learners and community members but also in employment and when we need access to healthcare. He made a poignant point that exclusion from wider society can lead to mental health issues which a deaf person may find even harder to cope with. On the other hand, if a deaf person receives the right support from society there can be no limit to their achievement. This workshop was designed to inform others the opportunities and challenges that deaf members may face.
I then taught the students the basics of BSL including the alphabet, numbers and basic greetings. All participants took part in different activities such as conversing in sign language, racing to see who can fingerspell the fastest and also experiencing obstacles with deafness.
After the program when I was walking to the car park, I saw some participants from the session, especially the girls, practicing the BSL they had learnt with their young friends and elderly relatives. This made me feel very happy, Alhamdulillah. Maisam-Reza and Bilal also had people coming up to them and thanking them for such an informative session and put forward ideas on how to promote deaf awareness within the community. Our teachers are now taking up the opportunity to train more teachers in BSL in supporting SI Madrasah’s learning support team.
Overall, we were all pleased to see the audience laugh, smile and learn many interesting facts. We wanted to push on awareness especially in the Shia community, as we all have a duty towards Allah (swt) to help each and every one of His creations. We hope to continue to encourage a greater understanding of the deaf community’s needs and opportunities to members of the wider community.
Some testimonials we received after the event:
“The talk was absolutely brilliant. The day ran smoothly. It was extremely poignant but also very humorous. I’ve never seen the girls so involved. It was very interactive.” – Saif-Abbas Chatoo.
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