Nestled in the Banke district in Nepal is a small hostel that transcends its functionality as a residential facility for vulnerable hearing-impaired children, and instead has become a true home, family and place of belonging for a beautiful community of vibrant kids.
As the global deaf community celebrates International Week of the Deaf this week, we took the opportunity to chat with our partners at RHERI to reflect on their work, and what it means to create a space for voice and opportunity for their children.
Founded in the year 2000 RHERI was originally a deaf school and the only option for education for hearing-impaired children in western Nepal. However many of the children struggled to commute daily, so RHERI established a residential hostel to ensure they had the support and opportunity to attend school.
When, some years later, the Nepalese government welcomed deaf children into mainstream government-funded schools, RHERI shut the doors to their school and focussed on creating a supportive home in the hostel.
Creating a safe space for vulnerable children
Today RHERI is home to 44 hearing-impaired children aged 11 – 17 years old, and the hostel is well known as a safe space and community for some of the areas most vulnerable deaf children.
RHERI’s director Punit, and communications manager Bhabuk, explained how the hostel specifically selects children who are at high-risk and whose families are struggling with poverty, to ensure they receive the opportunity to learn and find a place in society.
“In the initial years, we used to go around the districts in search of deaf students. As 20 years have passed now, we are well known in the western parts of Nepal, and people know that there is a deaf hostel in Banke district. The parents usually call first before arriving but sometimes, people directly come to us with their children.”
Their contribution to the local community and the lives of their children can not be underestimated. Most of the children who come to RHERI face almost complete social isolation in their homes and communities, with no local support or services for their families.
This means that the majority of children who come to RHERI have no formal or structured communication methods, such as sign language, until they are at least 11years old, and have interacted with their families using intuitive non-verbal communication. The result is extreme social isolation and almost non-existent literacy or numeracy.
“As the deaf children themselves and other family and community members do not know the deaf language, it is very hard for them to communicate. They still have not been able to be in the mainstream of society. They find themselves in a grey area, as they do not get full attention like people with other disabilities, and neither do they fit in the group of able individual.
“There is a massive misconception in these parts of Nepal that Deaf are intellectually weak and hence only good at work that does not require mental effort. Because of this family and community do not put effort into deaf children’s education.” Bhabuk explained.
It’s not hard to imagine, then, the impact that RHERI has on a child’s educational, developmental and emotional wellbeing. While discussing the huge change that RHERI creates for children, Bhabuk comments, “I can say they are often very reluctant to go home”.
“When they come to the hostel and they have 40 kids around them, and they have a community. When they’re at the hostel they can freely express their words. They have so many things to express, and they can express at the hostel. There are people who understand them, a whole community that understands them that they can connect with.”
Creating opportunities for a brighter future
Until mid-2019 RHERI only had the financial capacity to provide support to the children while they were at the hostel. Unfortunately, this meant that while the kids were at school they struggled to connect with their teachers most of whom don’t have sign language skills. As a result, most of the children struggled with their studies, couldn’t ask for help, and had trouble connecting with their classmates.
In late 2019, BTO partnered with RHERI to fund two sign-language teachers to go to school with the children and help in class to interpret lessons, interact with teachers and educate their classmates with basic sign language. The impact of having this conduit has been immense for the kids.
“They now can connect easily with other people. They now can express their voice in a more confident manner. They now have someone to talk to, someone to ask questions about their studies, you know? Everything. Their confidence, their studies, they can connect easily with the community, everything has become better.”
And this is RHERI and BTO’s joint mission: to make a better future for vulnerable children. For RHERI this means continuing to support children while at school, and supporting them to find appropriate avenues for vocational training once they leave the hostel.
Like RHERI, we believe that everyone deserves to have a voice, so we asked them to share with you, our supporters, what their goals and hopes were for the future:
“Our focus is on:
a. providing education
b. providing sign language training for people in the student’s circle
c. Preparing the schools for better accommodation of deaf students.
d. advocating for a better policy for deaf
e. equipping them with the required skill for employment
“We wish to make an environment where deaf students can easily get an education like able-bodied students, and that they can communicate with family and teachers with ease. We wish that every deaf person would be able to make a living for themselves and have a dignified life with self-respect from the community.
“And as we do not have a permanent structure to train and provide necessary skills to the students, we want to establish an institution with a training centre which provides competent sellable skills that will make our students financially stable.”
We are so proud to partner with you RHERI.
RHERI are currently navigating a tough lockdown and closed schools in Nepal. Currently, 18 of their children are at home with their families, yet RHERI is still supporting them by delivering food supplies and assistance with safe shelter where necessary.
While there is a long, long road ahead we are proud to be at the beginning of a meaningful partnership with RHERI. Their work and their vision are essential in creating spaces of belonging and connection for beautiful, bright young children. Because every child deserves a voice and an equal opportunity for a bright future.
Can you help us support RHERI and other local organisations providing education and opportunities for children?