Message by Mrs. Asha Dey, one of the past teachers, Principals of our School and Ex-Secretary of Deaf Aid Society..
One day, in 1974, as I passed by “The Sheila Kothavala Institute of the Deaf” on the old airport road in Bangalore, I saw a sign that said “teachers wanted!” I was a wandering teacher, who had moved with an air force husband from place to place – and school to school. Now in Bangalore, I was looking for a school to work in, and wondered what it would be like to teach deaf children. I made tentative enquiries and, because Ms Veronica Das ( a committee member and founder and secretary of the Cheshire Home) suggested that I should be taken in as a teacher, and encouraged me to try- I was suddenly a teacher for the deaf!
My life, in some ways continued as before, but in other ways was changed for ever. I had never before seen a class where specialised teaching for the deaf was being undertaken! I was placed in a primary level class, and given the books I had to use to teach. The school was totally oral, so I didn’t have to learn a new language (sign language), but I had to face the challenge, and the joy of specialised education. I had an amazing set of dedicated gurus at the school who took over the task of teaching me.
The School was run by a Belgian order of nuns from Chennai. The three nuns in the School were Sister Weis, Sister Rachel, and Sister Beatrice and they strongly believed that just lip reading, speech reading, and amplified speech must be used as the means of communication. They did not allow the use of hands and gestures to communicate. I quite easily got into the flow of teaching as I fell in love with my children on first sight. All day, I could think of nothing else, but how I could plan my next lesson, or how a particular child could be drawn into the learning process. In fact, one morning, my husband Babi told me that I was speaking in my sleep and saying “speak, speak I cannot hear your speech!” I was fascinated with how the children communicated with each other on the play ground during the breaks. I was also fascinated with the sign language being used by Father Harry, a Canadian priest, who used the American signs to interpret for the children during functions. I could see how even an alien sign language was a relief in communication for so many children. I was to grow to understand the power of sign language in later years.
I completed my in service training with a break since I moved with my husband on a posting. Soon after my training was completed I was asked to take over as Principal, since Sister Rachel decided that they must move on since the school was well established. I took over as Principal with some trepidation since my experience with the nitty grity challenges of administration was limited. By now I had begun to understand the politics of language, terminology, and inclusion of “differently abled” people in our society. I had learned how the term “handicapped” (cap in hand) was so discriminatory and condescending, and how the deaf and other disability communities would keep saying – “please look at what we can do – rather than what we cannot!” I had also begun to understand the debates within the deaf community – of teaching through sign language and of determining which sign language to use and develop. I also faced the challenges of continuing to get Government support for the school and its teachers. As time has passed unfortunately, the government has sought to reduce its commitments rather than taking responsibility for this most important area of the social sector. I had just started to come to grips with the job and all that it entailed (about four months) when my husband was posted to Washington.
While this was an unexpected break from a new responsibility with the school, it provided a great opportunity opportunity to do my Masters in Deaf Education at Gallaudet University in Washington. I thoroughly enjoyed the course, and what is more, I finally learnt the sign language. My Galludet exposure convinced me that sign language is the native language to communicate with Deaf children and adults; particularly those who are not given adequate amplification and speech training from infancy or very early childhood. I also saw how a University for the deaf could provide opportunities for so many deaf students to become experts in various fields. I remember a talk at a convocation where the speaker analysed that the money the government and society had spent on supporting the students of the college, had been returned with interest through the taxes the alumni paid in their high paying jobs! This is something we have to learn as a society – education of vulnerable and marginalised communities is an investment – not a dole.
I returned to the school in 1985 – this time as head of the Teacher Training programme. One big achievement was to get recognition as a teacher training Institute for the Deaf, by the Karnataka Education Department. I also began to interpret for the children whenever there were any dignitaries or visitors speaking to the children. Unfortunately I had to leave after two years for yet another posting – this time to Ambala. However, thanks to SKID, my involvement with deaf education was so compelling, that, with help from the Rotary Club of Ambala, I helped set up a School for the Deaf, there as well. I was proud and happy to see, when I I visited the school ten years ago, just before its sliver jubilee anniversary, the school had acquired many more students and was providing extremely good facilities in the academic as well as vocation training areas.
After my final return to Bangalore, in 1992, my involvement with the school and the Deaf Aid Society has continued in various capacities. I became, Secretary of the Deaf Aid Society (that manages the school )for ten years, and am now a very involved and engaged committee member. Jessy, the present Principal recently described me as, “a pillar of the School” – actually I see the School as a pillar in my life!!
On this momentous Golden Jubilee of the Sheila Kothavala Institute for the Deaf, I feel extremely pleased to realise that I have now had close to 50 years of involvement in various capacities at the school. I have seen the school grow from strength to strength. Our teachers are extremely dedicated. Over a thousand children have passed out of the school. Our alumni have integrated in the ‘hearing world’ and make strong contributions in their jobs in many fields. The School from its beginning has been thought of as a model school for the deaf in Bangalore. To live up to that ambitious objective, it will have to continue to innovate, and its family members will have to maintain the high level of involvement and commitment it has had since its inception. I feel proud to know that I am a part of this ongoing, wonderful, collective journey.