Last month in March, three of our DCH staff took a trip to Honduras to visit two of our partners who are doing incredible work there. This team spent quality time with missionaries who are full-time in mission work serving deaf children who are living in poverty in Honduras. These missionaries left everything that was familiar in the United States to relocate their lives, all because deaf children in poverty desperately need hope and language, and Jesus.  The deaf children and their families who they met and came to know, are experiencing obstacles that are hard to comprehend.

This is the story of one special girl

This is the story of one special girl. Nelsi and her family live on farming land. Her father taught them about growing coffee. Nelsi and her mother travel between two hours and four hours to school, each direction, Monday-Friday. Nelsi wouldn’t benefit from the closer hearing school. She, like all deaf children, can’t access the learning environment or curriculum at a hearing school, so efforts to be educated are fruitless.

The closest deaf school is in Tegucigalpa, the capital, and while not that far away as the crow flies, it is a very long commute for the family. If they can find a ride to the bus station then they can leave at 6 am to be to school by 8 am, switching buses a few times along the route. If they cannot find a ride from their rural village then they leave the house at 4 am to walk to the closest bus stop. Then they do it all over again in the afternoon. Nelsi’s mom works at the school while Nelsi is in class as many of the moms do. It helps them to learn sign language, and they don’t have many places they could go since their commute is so long.

The team traveled to Nelsi’s house and experienced the commute in the car. More than half of the journey was on dirt roads where travel was slow going. They needed to stop and ask for directions a few times as they slowly moved between small villages further up the mountain outside of Tegucigalpa. Nelsi and her mother were waiting for the team by the side of the road.

The team thought they had just walked out of their house to greet them on the road. Instead, they parked the car in some shade and walked about fifteen minutes to their home. A young boy rode by on a horse at one point and a very thin dog accompanied them on the trip. The scenery was beautiful. Nelsi’s family was all around her. Three houses altogether, with many children. The team was greeted with so much hospitality. The school had arranged the visit in advance but they didn’t know exactly what time the team would arrive because road conditions and morning tasks dictated the timeline.

This family lives off the grid in the most profound way

Nonetheless, they were fed a fabulous lunch with more food than they could eat and were given a tour of the property. Nelsi’s house consisted of a small indoor kitchen and one other small indoor space for sleeping. This family lives off the grid in the most profound way. No plumbing or electricity. No way to access the house via car or bus. They grow food for themselves and to sell.

Nelsi uses Honduran sign language which is called Lesho. It has similarities to American Sign Language so those on the trip who knew ASL were able to pick up some basic Lesho pretty easily. Because of this Nelsi was able to share her feelings and thoughts and opinions with the strangers from America. The team didn’t see anyone else in her family sign with Nelsi besides her mother.

The team spent time with two DCH partners on this trip. For the first part of the trip, they were in Gracias, the second half in Tegucigalpa. The team asked each partner if they could accompany them on one house visit in each location. Instead, both partners went above and beyond and planned six home visits. The reality is most of what Deaf Child Hope is able to share with the public through social media and news outlets about deaf children in developing countries is AFTER they have found their way to a deaf school, orphanage, or program where they can learn sign language for the first time, receive an education, find acceptance amongst peers, learn about Jesus and have a community. It’s the children that are known about and are at a school that get sponsored and therefore can be visited. And while these children need support more than anything, it’s the 20+ million deaf children who don’t yet have access to sign language or school and are still out there, that make the emotions run high and keep us pushing forward every day to reach more deaf children with hope. Visiting Nelsi and five other students in their homes and with their families, helped the team to understand in the most genuine way, where these children come from and what attending a deaf school means for their lives and their futures.

Learning is a gift

Sometimes Nelsi can’t get to school because the road washes out when the rain comes. These days she takes a phone (on loan from the school) and her notebook and she walks to the neighbor’s house about 15 minutes away, where there is a place in the shade to sit, where reception is good, and there is an outlet to use the phone. She sees the assignment on her phone, copies it onto her paper, and completes her work. For her, school assignments are not a task to get done, a mundane part of her day, or a boring way to spend the hours when the sun shines. For her, learning is a gift, a gift she couldn’t’ access before somebody taught her sign language and helped her get to school.

Nelsi has a sixteen-year-old cousin who lives up the road so they all piled into the car to go visit her. Years ago she also attended the deaf school in the city but hasn’t been back in over three years, so the school staff wanted to check on her. Her mother had passed away and she was living with an older sister while the two of them care full time for lots of little children. For them, the long commute and cost of so many bus tickets is a bigger sacrifice.

Neither of these girls started going to school between ages three and five like we are used to here in America. Many parents in developing countries don’t know that their deaf child can be educated until they meet someone who knows sign language. Then the doors are opened but the resources are very limited.

Without a doubt, being deaf in a developing country in impoverished communities yields so many hardships. When you are Deaf in America you have federal laws like the IDEA and ADA that protect your rights for services and accommodations in school and in the workforce. You have access to doctors and audiologists who can provide choices for hearing amplification. You have higher levels of education and online resources aplenty to learn sign language with and for your child. None of that applies when you live in poverty in a developing country.

Connection with a Community

It was impossible for the team to not revaluate priorities and stress factors in their personal lives upon arriving home. The things that challenge moods and lifestyles on a regular basis in the U.S. are hard to get worked up over after you’ve spent time with a deaf child in poverty. We take for granted our ability to connect with others for example. Without language, life is isolated and lonely. For the deaf children the team met while in Honduras, having access to a deaf school isn’t only about language access and education but about connecting with a community of people who really understand who they are. It’s hope!