Deaf Children Australia (DCA) and the Deaf Society of NSW (DSNSW) held a Crossing Borders Camp at the YMCA Anglesea Recreation Camp for 49 deaf teenagers from 19 to 23 January. The camp supported young people aged 14 to 17 years from around Australia to develop their self-esteem and personal and leadership skills, as well as enhance their friendship networks.
It was a great opportunity for teenagers from diverse backgrounds to come together, share their experiences and learn from each other. They gathered at DCA’s bluestone building from as far afield as Darwin, Perth and Brisbane and we spoke to some of the teenagers as they were about to jump on the bus.
Raphael Villamer and Angel de Leon
Fourteen year old Raphael and eighteen year old Angel travelled down from Darwin but they are both originally from the Philippines. When they came to Australia, they didn’t know any English so like all migrant deaf children, they had the additional challenge of trying to lip read/hear everyone speaking in a foreign language.
Communication was really hard initially. Then Angel and Raphael were referred to the VidKids program a year ago and have been learning Auslan through tuition provided by DeafNT and Deaf Children Australia. DeafNT VidKids Officer Vanessa Adzaip brought Angel and Raphael to the camp and said, “It’s a good opportunity for them to travel outside Darwin. They are both deaf and don’t know their Deaf identity. They can get to know Deaf culture more on the camp. There are a lot of Deaf kids with Deaf parents so it will be a good opportunity for them to meet those kids to see the richness of the culture and language.
“Raphael and Angel’s sign language has improved so much. Raphael is not a person who used to talk a lot but with his teacher’s aide, a Deaf role model, he has started coming out of his shell and talks a lot. On the plane, I was trying to sleep in the dark in the middle of the night but Raphael was so excited that he kept waking me to ask questions.”
The day before he left, Raphael got in trouble because he never stopped talking about the camp in church. He told us, “I am looking forward to swimming, skateboarding and basketball – but most of all, I am excited about meeting deaf kids. I was born deaf and the rest of my family are hearing. I grew up in a small village and my mum spoke for me when we went out. I had hearing aids but could only hear a little. All my teachers spoke with no signing so it was hard. I had no help at school.
“In 2011, we flew to Singapore and then to Darwin. When we came to Australia, I knew no English but Australia is good as we can sign here and I have had two cochlear implants. My mum and dad watch on Skype while I am taught to sign so they can sign a bit too. I had no friends in the Philippines but I have school friends and basketball friends now.”
Angel told us, “I am very shy but I want to make new friends with other deaf people on camp. I started learning English when I came to Australia two years ago and it was hard – then I started learning Auslan. I didn’t know any other sign language before I came. My brother, mum and dad are all hearing and I didn’t see people signing in the Philippines.
I had one year at school with hearing kids when I was six. Then from the time I was seven, I was at home with a tutor. When I came to Darwin, I went to a high school.”
Angel is now volunteering at DeafNT helping Vanessa and she says that in the future, “I want to work with kids… with babies.”
Sixteen year old Emily explained why she was so keen to attend the camp that she and her mum drove all the way down from the Gold Coast:
“I wanted to meet deaf people from other parts of the country and I would like to be a leader in the Deaf community in the future. Camp is a really good opportunity to make more friends. I have always come across a lot of barriers – especially communication barriers – but I have been fortunate that my family (who are all hearing) can sign. Now I identify myself as a Deaf person, I have more confidence. I want to be part of the Deaf community and I am already part of groups in Brisbane. We go to parties, deaf sports recreation programs and entertainment.”
Emily’s mum Sharon said, “When Emily was six months old, I thought she was deaf but she wasn’t diagnosed until she was one. She started to learn to sign then. Emily was born without cochlears and the cochlear implant surgery didn’t work. Hearing aids wouldn’t help either. Emily attends a school with a specialist education program but Emily is mainstream for all her subjects.”
Emily added, “Mum and I are very happy with the support I receive from my school. They are very good at providing me with what I need and my mum’s always stood up for me. Interpreters have always been a problem. I am in Year 11 this year and we need a really good interpreter full time. It’s a must. If I don’t have the interpreter, it’s a discrimination issue because I need to have access to all the information.”
Sharon advised, “Parents have to fight to get support. I have lobbied on having specific interpreters for the right subjects. If the interpreters don’t understand the subject matter, they can’t convey it to Emily. I have also lobbied for Auslan Language Models – Deaf adults who can go into the classroom and help explain the subject matter. For example, they have really helped Emily with understanding texts in her OP English class (which is needed for university entrance).
“We have asked for different teachers when she has had teachers who aren’t culturally aware. As soon as you start talking about discrimination and equal access to the curriculum, you have a lot more power.”
Emily explained, “I am studying OP art and drama and also doing maths, hospitality, and film and TV. I want to go to TAFE. I am pretty open with my choices. There are lots of options with careers out there… the world is your oyster.
After the camp, Emily wrote to say, “It was a very valuable experience and I would recommend it to other Deaf teenagers. I would go to the next camp. The thing I enjoyed the most was the night time activities where all the Deaf came together and had fun and laughter!”
Zoe Harris, a 15 year old student at Shenton College in Perth, told us as she was getting on the bus, “I feel excited and nervous about the camp.” Her mum Jodie Harris told us about Zoe’s background: “Zoe was born deaf but wasn’t diagnosed until she was nearly two. She then had hearing aids fitted and learned to sign. My husband and I carry the genes for deafness and we had a one in four chance of having a deaf child. Our other two children are hearing. Zoe’s school has a deaf unit but Zoe is mainstreamed. I work at a deaf school so I sign with Zoe a lot. Zoe added, “My sister signs quite a bit but my brother and dad mostly speak. Being with other deaf kids on the camp is going to be really good.”
When Zoe returned from camp, she told her mum that she is keen to attend the next camp and may have the chance to return as a leader when she is older. She wrote to us about how the camp went: “I enjoyed the deaf camp and it was awesome. I really like the actives games and meet peoples. My favourite active is all actives games! It’s made me built some of confidence to talk people who I haven’t met. I made some new friends from deaf camp and I have their contact so I can talk to them whenever. I’m really happy that I went to there.”
All the teenagers at Crossing Borders had the opportunity to try surfing, high ropes, mountain biking, skating and other fantastic outdoor adventure activities, along with participating in team building exercises and leadership workshops. As National Manager, Client Services and Community Development Caroline Doutre states, “Often, young people who are deaf may tend to sit on the sidelines so it was wonderful for them have the confidence to get involved and have a go at everything.”