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It’s my third day in Myanmar visiting DMI’s Muir School for the deaf. The monsoon rains have lifted and the kids are kicking up a dust storm in the middle of the school ground by belting a soccer ball around. Though there are laughs and guffaws and squeals, the battle is intense and right in the middle of them all, giving the boys absolute what-for, is Wendy. Like the others, she plays barefoot and she plays hard but she is the only one wearing a dress. Clearly, she’s having a ball.
Wendy is not her real name. Her real name is Ning Khan Lun but it’s impossible to pronounce correctly so let’s just go with Wendy. Wendy struck me as extraordinary right from the start. Bright as a button and vivacious, she is obviously very clever. Yet here at DMI’s Muir School for the Deaf in Kale, at the age of 13, she is only in grade one. I ask her why.
She grew up in a village 80 kilometres away so never knew about the deaf school until last year. For the first twelve years of her life, she received no education.
She never learned how to study, how to read or write, or even communicate. She lived in a very lonely, silent world. Yet amazingly, she shared this silent world with her younger sister and brother who are also deaf. Now, they all live together at the school.
The life that Wendy describes before coming to the school was miserable. She was bored because she had no friends to play with, frustrated because she couldn’t communicate with them even if she had them, and upset because she had no means to learn – something that she is so highly capable of doing. Her life was empty. My heart starts to break for her but then she stuns me with this:
“I like being deaf.”
Excuse me? I have to ask the translator to check what she said, and that is indeed what she said. She likes being deaf. I ask her to explain this.
Since coming to the school, she has entered a whole new world where she can learn, make friends and communicate with them. She loves her teachers and loves studying (especially sign). She soaks it all up like a sponge. There is no subject that she doesn’t enjoy studying and there is no aspect of school life that she doesn’t enjoy whether it’s learning in the classroom, eating lunch or kicking that soccer ball around. It’s because of this school that she has come to love life and she has come to love being deaf. Being deaf is who she is, it’s her identity, and now she wouldn’t want it any other way.
I ask her a rather unkind question to test her on this: If there were an operation or a miracle cure for her deafness would she want it? Surely she would, I thought. But her answer is clear and emphatic and stuns me once again.“No.” If she were no longer deaf, she explained, then she could no longer stay at the school and being here, amongst friends and teachers and the caring learning environment – despite the obvious lack of material comforts – to her means more than anything else. It’s then that I’m overcome by a profound truth:
Wendy’s need for love is greater than her need to hear.
I’m curious about this learning environment. It’s rare to see a youth so enamoured by the opportunity to study. What we take for granted in the West! I ask her what subjects she likes the most but she can’t decide. She thinks about it some more and then shares with me her love for morning devotions.
Every morning at 7:00am they have a devotion time before classes. All the kids together. Wendy really enjoys this time and loves learning about God. She finds God’s Word fascinating and enjoys singing in sign language. I show interest in this so she immediately jumps up and shows me how to praise and worship in sign language. She looks so pleased. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a child happier in the moment.
Before I close the interview Wendy has one more surprise for me. I came to Myanmar and to this school thinking about the needs here – the physical, emotional and spiritual needs. I came ready to give and ready to pray for them. But Wendy is ahead of me. Though she is deaf and she is young and she doesn’t have a single possession of her own, she says that she would like to pray for me, and she does. Her prayer is beautiful. I’m humbled and I’m inspired by this girl. I came here to change her life, but she has changed mine.