Twelve-year-old Kisanet, left, joins in at Silent Voice’s Saturday program for deaf children. Photo by Jean Ko Din

Silent Voice bridges communication gap

By 
  • March 29, 2019

Twelve-year-old Kisanet hardly remembers the time when she was not deaf.

It has not been easy growing up without hearing the sounds of the world around her, but it’s what she’s known since she lost her hearing at age two.

“I have no problems being deaf. I accept my deaf identity. I’m proud of being deaf,” she said through an American Sign Language interpreter. “Socializing with hearing and deaf friends, I’m okay with that…. It’s a little bit hard but we help each other.”

Kisanet, who was born in Eritrea, said communicating can sometimes be challenging, but she has also learned to be more open and patient with her hearing friends. She is even teaching a friend at school how to spell in sign language.

Silent Voice played an integral part in teaching Kisanet’s formation as a deaf person. The Saturday children’s program is a unique opportunity for her and 13 fellow deaf children to meet and socialize with each other from 1-4 p.m at the Silent Voice offices in downtown Toronto.

The Saturday children’s program (ages six to 12) runs for 12 weeks in the year. During an afternoon session, deaf children and their siblings play games, make crafts and practise new words they learn in American Sign Language.

Down the hall, parents are gathered in another room where an instructor teaches them basic sign language skills to help them communicate with their deaf children.

“One quote from a parent was that her two sons had play dates about two or three times a week and her deaf daughter has play dates two or three times a year,” said Kelly MacKenzie, executive director of Silent Voice. “What we want to do is give them an opportunity to be around their peers that are deaf which means they have similar life experiences, same language and they’ve got deaf adults as role models.”

Silent Voice receives funding from their charity partners, including $230,000 from ShareLife, the charity arm of the Archdiocese of Toronto. Silent Voice is one of more than 40 agencies supported by ShareLife, which aims to raise $13.6 million for “a family of Catholic agencies” throughout the archdiocese this year. A ShareLife Sunday collection will take place in parishes March 30-31.

MacKenzie said that without ShareLife’s annual funding, Silent Voice would not be able to offer their services and programs for free.

In addition to the Saturday children’s programs, Silent Voice offers sports programs, family communication programs, American Sign Language classes and outreach initiatives. All services are free.

Silent Voice also runs an annual Sign Language Summer Program which is a weekly day camp.

“We couldn’t do it without ShareLife,” said MacKenzie. “These donations make a huge difference in the lives of these people.”

Godwin Ebhote and his two children have only been in Canada for six months. Before Silent Voice, his daughter didn’t know how to sign and communicating with her was very difficult.

“Silent Voice sent someone to the house and taught us, me and my son, and we started learning from there,” said Ebhote, who has been coming to the Saturday programs since January. “The more we started coming here... now my sign language is improving and I can communicate with my daughter.”

Ebhote said he still can’t believe how much Silent Voice has done for his small family without asking for a fee. He said the organization has changed their lives and, in a way, has become an extended family for them.

Even though Maria Lourdes Balauag works overnight shifts on Friday evenings, she still makes a point to come to Saturday sessions with her deaf son. She knows how important this experience is for her son and so a little sleep deprivation is a small price to pay.

“I think it’s very important for them because they feel more comfortable with people who understand them,” said Balauag. “Also, the classes they have here are very helpful and the people are very supportive.”


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Unlike many other news websites, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our site. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.