Year Joined MKLM: 2000
City: Phnom Penh
Focus: Justice and Peace
Project: Ministry with Deaf People
Population Served: Deaf people
Description: empower disabled (deaf)
To empower deaf people to develop their education, language, employment and community, and to raise awareness and understanding of deafness, deaf people, and their culture within Cambodian society.
In 2016, Russ transferred to Cambodia, focusing on ministry with deaf people. The lives of the deaf in Cambodia are particularly marginalized. According to officials at the World Federation of the Deaf, Cambodia was the only country in the world that did not have any kind of sign language prior to 1996. Unlike other countries, Cambodia also did not have any organizations for the deaf.
Russ works with the Deaf Development Program in the capital city of Phnom Penh. He utilizes his tremendous administrative and project management skills serving as Finance Manager, supporting the functions of accounting, human resources and donor compliance. The program employs a staff of eighty local individuals, both hearing and deaf people, who provide:
Basic Education to Young Deaf People
Job Training to Develop Skills and Livelihoods
Deaf Community Development
Sign Language Interpretation Services
Cambodian Sign Language Research and Development
Social Services Assistance
The project sends outreach teams to the villages to identify young deaf people to attend the program’s school for two years of basic education in sign language and life skills. Most of these young people are the only deaf person in their village and they have never even met another deaf person. They are often misperceived by others to be mentally ill. They live in isolation within their own families and communities. When the students first arrive at school, it often takes several weeks for them to realize that everyone else in their class is deaf, too.
Russ shares: “In December of 2017, I attended our graduation ceremony for our most recent deaf student graduates. It was inspiring to me to see what a difference this program has made in their lives. They are now communicating through sign language, have made friends, and enjoy participating in sports and activities like other young people. The isolation has been broken and they are becoming integrated into the wider world around them.”
Russ is originally from Seattle, WA, where he was active in St. Joseph Parish, Archdiocese of Seattle. He is both an accountant and a lawyer. Russ studied at the University of Washington in Seattle and Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. He joined MKLM in 2000 and went to Kenya, where his ministries included serving as the Finance Manager at St. Martin’s School in Nairobi, and then serving for ten years as Project Manager for the St. John Bosco Rehabilitation Centre in the Diocese of Kitale. The project served children from displaced pastoralist families who had fled from drought and hunger. It took children off the streets and put them in schools. Many have now completed vocational training courses and some have even gone to college.