Singing and Signing

A letter from Jed Koball, serving in Peru

June 2017

Write to Jed Koball
Write to Jenny Koball

Individuals: Give online to E200447 for Jed and Jenny Koball’s sending and support

Congregations: Give to D507513 for Jed and Jenny Koball’s sending and support

Churches are asked to send donations through your congregation’s normal receiving site (this is usually your presbytery).

 


In a small makeshift schoolroom, constructed of two-by-fours, plywood and corrugated metal, Kristen´s melodious voice filled the space:

I´ve been staring at the edge of the water,
long as I can remember, never really knowing why…

Strumming along with her guitar, she was greeting the room full of kids with a Spanish version of the hit song ¨How Far I´ll Go¨ from the Disney movie Moana.

Kristen is a Young Adult Volunteer from Hawaii, serving at the Casa del Buen Trato – a home for adolescent survivors of sexual abuse run by our Joining Hands partners in the mountain town of Huanuco. Her gift of music has opened a door to develop trusting relationships with those who have found so little to trust in this world. But on this day, she was not playing for the girls in her site placement, rather she was with us in the jungle town of Moyobamba where we were visiting her fellow Young Adult Volunteer, Emily, from South Carolina. And, the kids she was meeting for the first time that day and greeting in such tuneful fashion were Emily´s students.

Emily is serving at a school for deaf children run by our Joining Hands partner Paz y Esperanza. Emily did not know Sign Language before arriving to Peru – let alone Peruvian Sign Language. In fact, Emily barely knew much Spanish! But, what she lacked in skills, she overcame with empathy and humility. She let the community be her teacher. And as the months passed by, as she found her place in that community, she, too, became a teacher. Soon she was not only leading classes for the youngest students, she was also organizing field trips.

It was one such outing that inspired Emily to invite Kristen to sing for her students. A few weeks prior, Emily had taken her students to see Moana at the local theater. While the kids understood the basic storyline, it was difficult for them to grasp much of the emotions, particularly in the music. And so the vision was born – Kristen would sing, and Emily would sign.

Click here to watch Kristen and Emily´s performance at the school

You may be asking yourself, “but what pleasure can deaf people derive from music apart from the lyrics?” What we have learned from our deaf friends is that there are levels of deafness, and more profoundly deaf people can often feel the vibrations of music being played. This combination of vibrations and lyrics is how deaf people enjoy music. And, on this particular day, the lyrics seemed to have added meaning. It was the day after Mother´s Day.

I wish I could be the perfect daughter,
But I come back to the water,
No matter how hard I try

Emily explained to us that the students had prepared poems and skits to present to their mothers the Friday before, but only five mothers showed up. Many live quite far away; in fact, some students travel twelve hours by horse, foot and bus three times a week to be in class. And of course, many parents are simply making ends meet, as the majority of students and families come from impoverished farming communities.

Every turn I take, every trail I track
Every path I make, every road leads back
To the place I know, where I cannot go
Where I long to be

The opportunities for the rural poor are already extremely limited. For the deaf, they are essentially non-existent. Despite there being more than 10,000 deaf people in the region around Moyobamba (nearly seven times the per capita rate for the rest of the country), there are few resources. While still searching to understand the reason for such high rates, Paz y Esperanza, led by teacher Clara who is herself deaf, dedicates its limited resources to promoting the full inclusion of the deaf in the larger community, particularly in the work place and in education. Only in 2010 was Peruvian Sign Language officially recognized by the State. Today, Paz y Esperanza has secured land for the construction of a new school and commitment from the government to resource it with paid teachers. In the meantime, it continues to build the community of learners who will further the movement.

See the line where the sky meets the sea? It calls me
And no one knows, how far it goes
If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind
One day I´ll know, if I go there´s just no telling how far I´ll go.

As the song came to an end, the students raised their hands in the air, shaking them vigorously – the universal sign for applause. After a time of sharing their Mother´s Day poems and skits for us, the floor was opened for anyone else to offer some words. At that moment, one of the students stepped forward:

¨My name is Sherley. A long time ago, I was very little. My Mom took me to school. I had a teacher there. She would sit me down, and she would talk to me a lot. I would just look at her, and I would say to myself, ´I don´t understand anything!´ But the teacher insisted trying to talk to me. What frustration! I had to have a lot of patience because I had to withstand all that the teacher tried to tell me. But, I didn´t understand anything. I couldn´t read. I couldn´t speak. Then my Mom learned about a program for deaf children. There I met Clara. She taught me her sign, but I didn´t understand. At first I cried and cried because I was afraid. But I saw that every person there was deaf. It was such a surprise for me. And then I began to learn. I remember learning the alphabet. I was so surprised by how much I was learning. Now, I don´t cry. I´m having fun! And I´m really happy to be here with Clara! And I am so grateful!¨

Click here to see Sherley tell her personal story

When Sherley sat down after telling her story, Clara turned to us with tears forming in her eyes. She said, Sherly has been coming to school here for several years, and this is the very first time she has ever told her story.

We cannot underestimate the power of community, which is the hallmark of the YAV experience and God´s mission today – Christian community that is rooted in empathy and humility, mutual learning, making space for the full inclusion of all people, opening the door to new opportunities, filling the sails of one another as we venture towards new horizons.

We thank you for filling our sails! For being part of our global community, through your emails, your prayers, your financial support, your solidarity with us from right where you are. May the love we share with partners here and there sustain us all in this journey of becoming God´s beloved people.

In Christ,

Jenny and Jed


Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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