2008–2009 Scholarship Recipient

SIMON MAHONY
Travel to Fiji 24th August - 21st September 2009

When I arrived and entered Fiji, personally I was very shocked, specifically because of the environment as it is so much different than in Australia. Also I did not realise that there was plenty of Fiji-Indians in Fiji, as it was not what I expected. Since then, I have found out population statistics for Fiji: 46% are Fiji-Indian, 48% are Fijian, and 6% are of other ethnicity.

I began my trip in Suva, at the Eastern Division, and I stayed here for the first week then I travelled to the Western Division to the towns of Sigtokoa, Nadi, Lautoka, and Ba for a week. After that, I went on a short trip to the Northern Division to the town of Labasa. During the last week, I went back to Suva again. The biggest reason why I stayed longer in Suva is because there is a large Deaf community, and the Deaf Fijian had impressed me in their ways, and it made me so passionate with Fiji Deaf Culture. My relationship with the Deaf Fijians has built which is so heart-warming for me.

To go into depth of what I did during the first week when I was in Suva. I went to a Fijian Deaf Camp at Na Vasi, which is near Suva. It was organised by the Fijian (Eastern Division) Association of Deaf. There were altogether about 52 Deaf Fijian at the camp, and this included Deaf adult role models to inspire the Deaf children at the camp. The camp was held during the Fijian school holidays and the camp activities were mainly Christian-based which provided for cultural and general education. Personally I learnt Fijian Sign Language immediately and I was impressed about the historical evolution of Fijian Sign Language. It was generally influenced by two totally different and unrelated types of Sign Language; British Sign Language (BSL) and American Sign Language (ASL). Fijian Sign Language is strongly influenced by the introduction of Signed English by the Australian and New Zealand Departments of Education. At the camp I was questioned by Deaf Fijians about all different varieties of Sign Languages around the world and I informed them to meet their curiosity and to satisfy them.

Fiji Deaf Communities

The first Fijian Deaf community was, naturally, established in Suva because it is the capital city of Fiji. In Suva there is a ‘Fiji (Eastern) Association of Deaf’ (FAD) and it is strongly supported and run by linked Deaf Teacher for the Deaf, Interpreters, and some local volunteers. The FAD site is very small and the FAD panel is still struggling to source and secure funds to continue the running of this association which is so important to the Fijian Deaf community as FAD advocates for qualified Fijian Sign Language interpreters, increasing Deaf Awareness, and accessibility to generic services for the Deaf people in Fiji. FAD also oversees Fiji Deaf sports such as the Fiji Deaf Rugby Union team, Fiji Deaf Volleyball team, and Fiji Deaf Netball team. In regards to Fiji Deaf Rugby Union team (FDRU), which is based in Suva, I have presented two workshops and trained two FAD committee members how to set up a website and maintain it. Again the FDRU are struggling for funds to make their club a successful one as many Fijian Deaf males are Rugby Union oriented and the International Deaf Rugby Union body (IDRU) is considering holding the first Pacific Deaf Rugby Union Cup in Fiji during 2011. This will bring an enormous sense of pride and celebration for the Fijian Deaf communities across the Fiji Islands.

A large percentage of Fijian Deaf community in Suva attend church regularly and I figured out why this was. Fijian Deaf people do not have the advantage of technology like Western countries do so going to church was basically the only activity that they would be able to do together that did not require a lot of money as most Fijian Deaf people do not hold regular employment and their Government does not have a social security payment program, i.e. Centrelink payments, that would support the unemployed Fijian Deaf people. However, it was beautiful to see their respect and grateful attitude but their burden of being poor was obvious. I would like to put forward that some kind of regular grant will be of gigantic benefit for them.

Fiji Deaf Schools

Education in the Eastern Division

In Suva there are some great opportunities for the Deaf Fijian youth as there are two special Deaf schools; Gospel School for the Deaf and Hilton Special School.

Gospel School for the Deaf

The Gospel School for the Deaf has embraced Fijian Deaf culture and it has 58 Deaf and Hard of Hearing (HOH) students, who are split into seven different classrooms based on age. This school recognises Fijian Deaf culture because it has teachers using Sign Language to communicate with the Deaf and HOH students as communication is vital. This school also employs four Deaf teachers and this is significant because the Deaf teachers provide a sense of Deaf identity for the Deaf and HOH students. The school’s education curriculum is based on the American education system because the Head Teacher is from America. The Deaf and HOH students finishing at Gospel School for the Deaf then can integrate with the hearing students at Gospel High School, which is adjacent to the Gospel School for the Deaf, with an interpreter provided. However, the provision of Interpreters is not permanent due to lack of funds and qualified interpreters which is an issue in equal access to education for the Deaf and HOH students.

Hilton Special School

The Hilton Special School sees 24 Deaf and HOH students and other students with disabilities, mental and physical, of varying degrees. The Deaf and HOH students have their own classrooms and their Head Teacher is also Deaf. The education curriculum at Hilton Special School is based on the Fijian Department of Education programme and the Deaf and HOH students are taught by using Sign Language which fosters a sense of Deaf identity and ease of communication between Deaf and HOH students and their teachers.

Hostels for the Deaf

What I found interesting was that there are two hostels for the Deaf and HOH students to live in. This is mainly for students whose families live far from either one of the Deaf schools, rejected Deaf children, and orphans.  One hostel is only for boys where they learn how to do work with tools and growing food which in turn provides food for the hostel. The other hostel is only for girls and small children and babies, the girls learn how to cook and do house duties as well as looking after the small children and babies. Then again both hostels are struggling with resources and are continuously sourcing funds.

Education in the Western Division of Fiji

Deaf communities and Deaf education in the Western division of Fiji is different than in the Eastern Division. This is because in the Western division a lot of Deaf people are isolated as there is no access to communication or opportunities and no Deaf organisation like FAD, and the Western division is mainly a tourist area.  I visited four special schools; Nadi Centre for Special Education, Sigatoka School for Special Education, Lautoka School for Special Education, and Ba School for Special Education. There were various numbers of Deaf and HOH but it is unfortunate that these four special schools have integrated the Deaf and HOH students with other students who have physical disabilities. As I observed the Deaf and HOH students at those schools, most of the Deaf and HOH students did not sit together and their teacher did not communicate in Sign Language but at Ba School for Special Education one Deaf woman was lucky enough to be working as a teacher’s aide. There was no sense of Deaf identity or Deaf culture at those special schools so I think it is fair to say that I would like to see each special school’s Head Teachers to obtain Deafness Awareness Training and be trained in Fijian Deaf culture and Sign Language. I did not feel ethical about the teachers not communicating in Sign Language so I took the initiative to gather the Deaf and HOH students outside together and played some rugby activities, and communicating in Sign Language. The Deaf and HOH students were over-excited and their smiles were never far away from their faces the whole time and this enabled me to encourage the Deaf and HOH students to open up and communicate in Sign Language.

I visited and met up with some Deaf adults from the Western division Deaf community and I was shocked to hear that most Deaf people face massive barriers in their lives because they did not receive proper education due to not being taught in their language; Fijian Sign Language. In turn, this affected their ability to communicate with hearing people and their ability to secure paid employment so most of them receive a low income.

Education in the Northern Division of Fiji

In the Northern division the Labasa School for the Handicapped has two Deaf units (classrooms) where there were only seven Deaf and HOH students and they were split into the classrooms according to age. The Deaf community in Labasa is similar to the Deaf community in the Western division.

Number of deaf children in school sites

School

Observed
N

Expected
N

Residual
N

Gospel School for the Deaf

58
15.6 42.4

Hilton Special School

24 15.6 8.4

Nadi Centre for Special Education

8 15.6 -7.6

Sigatoka School for Special Education

1 15.6 -14.6

Lautoka School for Special

9 15.6 -6.6

Ba School for Special Education

2 15.6 -13.6

Labasa School for the Handicapped

7 15.6 -8.6

Total

109

I must say that is beyond words to say thank you to the Quota Club for giving me this extraordinary opportunity as it is a part of my life experience. It is important to see things first hand and to see what is really needed however I do admit that there are a few things that I have not achieved during my scholarship so I would love to apply for this scholarship another time as I believe that I will be able to assist directly and meet priorities to finish my objectives.




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