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Support for deaf youth in Solomon Islands


Sign language could soon become the common language for people in remote communities of Solomon Islands as a new project aims to increase the number of signers in the Pacific nation.

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Led by Australian Catholic University’s Associate Professor Mellita Jones and representatives of Catholic Education Authority of the Archdiocese of Honiara, the project will train deaf and hearing people across Solomon Islands in AUSLAN, before sending them into remote communities where deaf children and young adults live.

The project was co-designed by Sr Maria Fe Rollo, principal of the San Isidro Care Centre, the only training school for deaf people in Solomon Islands; Catholic Education Authority director Modesta Hasiau; and former principal of Bishop Epalle Catholic School Jackson Meke.

It is being funded through a research grant of close to $500,000 from the Education Sector Support Program (ESSP) Solomon Islands, a partnership between the governments of Solomon Islands, Australia, and New Zealand.

Dr Jones said the ultimate goal was to lead deaf children out of the extreme isolation they felt.

“It can’t just be the deaf children who learn sign language, but the communities, so the ultimate outcome is to give those deaf children an opportunity to be active members, which is what people need for good mental health, prosperity and productivity,” she said.

On top of training recruits in sign language, Dr Jones said all participants of the project would also be eligible for a Certificate of Teaching and Learning from ACU, which gives them qualifications recognised by the Solomon Island’s Ministry of Education for employment in schools or other institutions.

‘Hopefully that will be really empowering for these people to earn a wage, and also to be teaching their community members,” Dr Jones said.

“It might help also reduce all the stigma that these disabled people have faced, that they will be seen as being quite capable members of their communities.

“I hope that’s a side benefit of the project.”

Deafness is one of the most common disabilities reported in Solomon Islands, leading to high levels of poverty-related diseases such as malaria, meningitis, rubella and otitis media. There is currently no research to determine the exact numbers of deaf people in the country.

There is only one educational facility supporting deaf youth in Solomon Islands, the San Isidro Care  operated by the Catholic Education Authority in Honiara.

Founded by Br George van der Zant of the Society of Mary (Marists) in 2007, San Isidro Care Centre is a live-in school dedicated to teaching basic skills to the deaf community, including AUSLAN.


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