When I arrived at the Montfort Institute in 2013, I felt especially drawn to the deaf children, but I still did not know sign language. How was I to communicate with them? Little by little, they drew closer to me, and our relationship was enriched with details that taught me to stand by these disabled children because they are truly capable of great things.
The Daughters of Wisdom are greatly committed to the deaf, in Haiti. To carry out their work, they appeal to the goodwill of the national and international communities, so that they might meet the educational needs of the country’s deaf children, and guarantee them formation that will lead to autonomy and independence. Unfortunately, all their efforts have been in vain and nothing has come out of their dedication, at a time in which the country’s socio-political relations are sharply degraded.
In Haiti, there are many deaf children who have never attended school as a result of their disability, because their parents see them only as a burden to be borne with no future prospects. Moreover, a significant number of these children are older by the time they arrive at the Montfort Institute, and they have already accrued great learning deficits. The Daughters of Wisdom welcome deaf students aged three and older. The majority of these children with disabilities is unable to complete the academic programme. At that point, we direct them to the Montfort Institute of Croix-des-Bouquets, where they can take professional courses that will allow them to learn a trade in one of these sectors: woodwork/cabinet-making, agricultural technology, tailoring, household arts and cosmetology.
Like all people with disabilities, deaf students need to feel loved, and they require a lot of attention. They have to be listened to, directed, reassured and guided. With the teachers’ constant help, and thanks to the presence of a team of psychologists involved in Montfort Institute’s personalized pedagogical project, these children gradually flourish. Little by little, they learn to participate in the joy of school and they make friends. The good done to a child, by helping him or her leave isolation, is truly inestimable. Earning the trust of deaf children in Haiti requires a lot of patience because they know that they are not loved, and they tend to internalize the rejection they often experience in their own family. The children who were orphaned after the earthquake in 2010, as well as those who were abandoned by their parents, display all the signs of chronic anxiety, which makes them incapable of looking to the future without crying. In general, deaf children are very emotional: since they cannot vocalize — that is, conceptualize their thoughts — they compensate for this deficit with aggressive behaviours; it is essential to teach them to correctly channel these reactions.
Deaf children, especially those in provincial towns, are victims of prejudice and discrimination. We see this in the story of a young deaf woman who received a diploma in household arts from the Montfort Institute of Lavaud, in Port-de-Paix, in the northwest of the country. Marina had offered to work for free with her neighbour who was looking for a baker to help her prepare a reception for her son’s engagement. The young woman was rejected, and with hurtful words no less: “How can a deaf person know how to cook?” But Marina, who knew she was truly skilled, insisted: she was tenacious and determined and in the end, she took the reins in the kitchen and prepared a delicious dessert. According to the guests, the dinner was truly excellent, the evening a great success. And Marina was soon hired at a large restaurant, to her parents’ delight, who could not thank and congratulate the household arts professor enough.
The Montfort Institute is the only specialized school in Haiti dedicated to the formation and education of deaf children. Here young people with disabilities are welcomed, along with their need to feel useful and valued. The Daughters of Wisdom accompany them in their academic journey with everyone’s help — professors, support staff, parents, friends and benefactors. The sisters have noticed that children with physical or intellectual disabilities, or those who are visually impaired, manage to at least make their way through the schooling process; instead, it’s an entirely different situation for children with hearing disabilities. It is more difficult to adapt the system, and it is less structured to meet the needs of the deaf. The academic journey ends with the ninth year of mandatory schooling. Since 2015 however, the Montfort Institute of Croix-des-Bouquets has increased its welcoming capacity, allowing students to continue their studies up until the philosophy course. In 2017, for the first time in the country’s history, the Montfort Institute presented eight candidates to the baccalaureate state exams, that is, the certificate of completion of classical studies, and all of them graduated with noteworthy grades. Since then, the Montfort Institute has been sending new candidates to the state exams each year: to date, 49 students have passed the exam, thanks to their perseverance in studying. Today many of them have completed university studies.
Sr Lamercie Estinfort