Celebrating Week of the Deaf in Samoa

By Elizabeth Ah-Hi ,

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SENESE Inclusive Education Suport Services Marie Bentin Toalepaiali'i and Co-ordinator for Deaf services; Belinda Hansell Lesa during a press conference for the International week of the Deaf.

SENESE Inclusive Education Suport Services Marie Bentin Toalepaiali'i and Co-ordinator for Deaf services; Belinda Hansell Lesa during a press conference for the International week of the Deaf.

Today marks the official opening of the International week of the deaf in Samoa which will be held at the Don Bosco Technical Centre in Savai’i. 

It may be a week later than the rest of the world but there is no timeline in advocacy to raise awareness at an individual, community and government level, explained Marie Bentin Toalepaiali’i of SENESE.

It’s also a cause for celebration that this year’s international awareness week is a first time collaboration of SENESE with the newly formed Society of the Deaf Samoa together with their government and NGO partners.

This year’s theme is “full inclusion with sign language” and the week’s planned activities will reflect this human rights topic starting with yesterday’s excursion at the Mulifanua wharf where members of the deaf community conducted some sign language training for the passengers and staff aboard the ferry. There is also some entertainment planned by students from SENESE secondary school who will be performing dance items. 

Mrs. Toalepaiali’i outlined this weeks agenda and thanked all sponsors and partners involved in this week’s celebrations.

 “One of our most important, new and main partners is the Deaf Society of Samoa which was set up in March of this year and of course our donors, people who are supporting our activities,” she said.

“We would like to acknowledge Samoa especially SSAB and SIFA. Last but not least, I would like to acknowledge with gratitude the assistance by the Samoa Shipping Corporation in this initiative. They have allowed us to conduct our awareness and sign language training on the wharf dealing with the public and most importantly they are sponsoring our fares to go to Savai’i and back.”

 “I think our sole purpose is to promote not only in schools but the community and country the importance of the rights of the deaf to be included in everything that we do and this can be done through sign language,” said Mrs. Toalepaiali’i.

“Sign language is our third language in Samoa. Therefore it is necessary for everyone to be aware of the importance of people with hearing impairments or those who are deaf.”

During the media conference, Marie Bentin Talepaiali’i spoke about some of the work that SENESE had actioned this year in their role as the Inclusive Education Support Services, a branch of M.E.S.C under their inclusive education policy. She hopes to expand their research to include other disabilities should they receive further funding.

 “SENESE conducted some hearing screenings in all primary schools in Samoa except for Robert Louis Stevenson primary school who did not take part,” she said, “our focus was on all year 4 and year 6 students. 

“We went out to screen or test their hearing and the number of students we that screened was 7,951 from year 4 and year 6. Those who passed the test (in other words those with nothing wrong with hearing) numbered 5,844. The number of students in year 4 and 6  who need medical treatment was 557 – that’s a big number.”

 “The purpose of our screening was so we could analyse our findings and provide M.E.S.C with a report and with this kind of information, so they can see if there is any link between children with hearing impairment and their performance in literacy and numeracy. We wish to do the same for vision, because we also do vision screenings but it all depends on funding.”

Ms. Toalepaiali’i also pointed out that full inclusion of hearing impaired people in our society also depends on everyone using inclusive and non derogatory language when referring to people with disabilities and she cautioned as well as encouraged the media to lead by example in the campaign of redefining positive speech.

 “Another important thing is the use of language. There are still so many people in our country who use the term “ fai’pē”. We no longer answer to that language and we ask you to please refrain from using it. 

“If we are to be inclusive of our deaf brothers and sisters, but continue to refer to them as “fai pē” then it would be as if we are yet again pushing them to the side. We call that labelling and its something thats not nice for anyone to hear but for those who have a disability they feel even worse especially when they hear language such as “ fai pē”, “ vae pi’o” or “tauaso”.

Another thing thats important is that the media also play a role in changing attitudes and educating the masses. So I ask the media to please be conscious in the language when referring to people with disabilities.”

On Thursday, the festivities will come to an end with the Minister Faimalotoa Lemaima Kika Ah-Kau-Stowers of Women, Community and Social Development officially closing the week.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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