Messages of hope from the Deaf community - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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December 2020 newsletter


Julie Lawler, Cambodia

A scene from DDP’s new year-end video.


The COVID-19 pandemic is just the most recent challenge the people of Cambodia have had to face. Cambodians are strong and continue to overcome other bigger challenges today — such as dealing with the trauma from their past war and genocide, extreme poverty, and trying to rebuild their education system one step at a time.

The Deaf Development Programme (DPP) is pushing through its own obstacles year by year in its pursuit of building a society that is inclusive and supportive of deaf individuals in the country.

As for myself, hope for the future is taking on change one day at a time. It is doing the little things that have great impact even when it takes more time and effort to achieve the results you want. Those little efforts can be the moving force that inspires greater progress.

My first contribution for change here in Cambodia within the deaf community came recently when I took on a new project that I feel celebrates hope. I have been taking on more and more responsibility, and I wanted to do something that could bring the hearing and deaf staff together.

Julie and the education team signing for the video

My hope was that a video could unite DDP and share a sense of community after the difficulties we have had to endure this year due to COVID-19. I decided to create an end-of-year video and have all the hearing and deaf staff use Cambodian Sign Language (CSL) to sign the lyrics to a song. It took a lot of effort, scheduling and work to translate between two languages, but I knew that this video was worth producing because it was a way to make visual media that deaf people can connect with.

This video showcases how media can be accessible to a broader population as well as inclusive of the needs of the deaf. I wanted the video to include a Khmer song, along with the staff signing CSL and then adding English captions. Since most things produced on social media and on TV are not accessible to people who are deaf, I wanted to show how a video can be made to be inclusive.

You can watch the video here.

Sreytin and Sopor Lay, with their son

To carry on the message of hope, DDP continues to have a hand in changing the lives of the deaf people who work and study here. One of my coworkers, Sreytin Lay, first came to DDP in her 20s as a deaf student, and she told me that the education and the opportunities she has received at DDP have given her “hope for a brighter future.”

Sreytin met her husband, Sopor, when they were both students at DDP. She said, “My parents have been supportive of my education, marriage and always encouraging me to be independent” after hearing about DDP. However, communication with her family members is limited.

When asked about what brings her hope, Sreytin mentioned two things. First, she said, “I want to show other Cambodian people that relationships between deaf people are a blessing not a curse.” It is a long-standing belief among many people around the world that deaf people should not get married and have children. There is a common misconception that deaf people would produce more children with the same disability and that deaf people need to be “fixed” to fit into society. She said, “I want to change that way of thinking.”

The second message she wanted to share: “My husband and I have a hearing son, and I feel that our future can only get stronger because my son knows Cambodian Sign Language.” Her relationship with her parents is good, but she cannot communicate directly with them using CSL. Sreytin smiles when asked about her son.  “The three of us share the same language,” she said, “and with that we can develop a stronger bond.”

When we come together to overcome challenges and unite, there is hope for a new tomorrow. Hope for the future can seem hard to grasp for some, but change is possible even in uncertain times.


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