The challenges of leaving our safe bubble - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Lent 2023 newsletter

Julie Lawler, Cambodia

At DDP’s community meals, staff and students gather around one long table that allows for easy conversation and for all to sit together. Everyone feels included.

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge
the flesh; rather serve one another humbly through love. For the entire law is fulfilled
in keeping this one command: love your neighbor as yourself
(Galatians 5:13-14).

I always try to imagine what a visitor, people from the community or our neighbors would think if they visited the Deaf Development Programme for the first time. Would they (hearing people) focus on how they will survive, progress, grow and preserve their freedom and power at the cost of others (people who are more vulnerable), whom they might look down upon because they are different, weaker and whom they do not see as equals? How do those without disabilities view our deaf community?

DDP students taught games for Khmer New Year and building community to newer students.

I may never know, but I do hope that if people from the community continued to walk into the gates, they would observe inclusion thriving in what appears to be a bubble encompassing DDP. Our bubble is where our deaf students are included, language is accessible and where members of our community with all our differences — hearing or deaf, rich or poor, from the city or from the countryside — can walk side by side, hand in hand.

Students at DDP have accessible language and use sign language in the classrooms to communicate and learn about the world around them. At lunch time there are conversations and relationship building where they are included, and on weekends they can hang out and build community with other deaf people who live in Phnom Penh.

In our haven, there is a desire to include and be included. When new students come to DDP they are given a chance to adapt to a new way of life: Where there was once isolation and confusion, there is clarity and understanding.

Our deaf students are away from their families and living in a new environment, so it is not surprising that many of the students absorb all of this accessibility and form a desire to maintain this level of inclusion in the days, months and years to come.

The reality, however, is that inclusion does not follow the deaf student back to their family after graduation or when they go outside into society and try to find a job. The world outside our “bubble” is different from being at DDP.

Unjust structures are not dismantled overnight. But with faith and hope and in small ways, change can happen, day by day, step by step.

Human dignity is the same for all human beings:
when I trample on the dignity of another, I am trampling on my own.
—Pope Francis

Using sign language, DDP students are participating in a class activity where they are included.

Given that the race of life is a marathon, not a sprint, people at DDP know how important it is for us to build bridges to the outside community. The hope we have pushes us to go out to local NGOs to spread deaf awareness and train their staff on hearing loss so they can provide intervention and support to families with deaf children.

We push on and work with local businesses and encourage them to hire people who are deaf and explain that this opportunity gives the deaf person a chance to have the dignity of earning money and providing for their families like their other hearing workers do.

DDP gets a boost of reassurance that we are fighting the good fight when we get reports back from a parent who shares a success story with us — like when a deaf teenager finished job training a few months back and was now able to earn money for the first time.

Use the skills I have got. Do not focus on what I have not. Of course,
I am aware of my limitation. Yet, I am part of God’s wonderful creation.
—William E. Lightbourne

In God’s eyes, the whole earth should be the “bubble” in which the dignity of all humanity and of all living creatures is respected. With God, inclusion is everywhere, and we are all God’s people. At DDP, we will keep fighting those unjust structures one day at a time, one deaf student at a time, one training at a time — and keep on going year after year.


Julie Lawler
Julie Lawler is a deaf education teacher with the Maryknoll Deaf Development Programme in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.