Deaf Returned Peace Corps Volunteers Share About Their Service - 2011 Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Uploaded by peacecorps on 08.07.2011

I remember during my time I was teaching at the elementary school and when I first arrived,
it was a very small village, VERY small village, and I was the only deaf adult there, and the
only Peace Corps volunteer and so, you know, the parents came in with their deaf children,
and I was meeting them and they were shocked; ‘You’re a deaf teacher from America?’
And my supervisor explained, you know, ‘Yeah, he has a university degree, blah blah blah,’
and they were all like: ‘He went to college? He has a degree?’ And my supervisor said
‘yes, yes’. And so the parents started to think you know, and they went back to their
homes, and of course it spread like wildfire that there was a deaf American with a college
degree in the village. And the result was that the deaf student attendance actually
increased. You know it was a lot of work, but I ended up with more students.
I actually had the same experience as you did. People thought because I was American
that it was impossible that I was deaf. But that was frustrating because I really wanted
to show that, you know, there are deaf people all over the world who can do whatever they
want to do. And they kept saying, ‘Oh it’s because you’re American that you can do
those things, in Kenya it’s different for deaf people and we can’t.’ And that was
really frustrating for me. I was like, you know, come on in I’ll teach
you. We’re Americans we’ve got all different varieties of people in America, but, you know,
that they used the word deformed really kind of threw me.
I had a hard time learning Kenyan sign language because the first 3 months that I was there
I studied to learn KSL and I kind of felt like I was good. And then I moved to another
village and they had a different sign language and their language was so completely different,
it was more kind of a home sign type of thing. So it took me another 3 months to learn that.
We sign for example ‘white’ here, and there they sign ‘white’, and of course
you’ll want to know why. So, 99% of the population there is black skinned so this
part of the inner arm they use to describe white. I thought it might be brown but it
was white and that’s how they identified me. That was my sign name actually from then
on, even though my last name is Brown. They would introduce me as a professor from
Galludet and then I would get up there and sign: ‘My name is Frances Parsons,’ and
the audience would clear out, which was shocking. And I learned by talking to people that they
would prefer that I spoke instead of using sign language.
In St. Lucia it was like night and day. Here I had an active community, a social life,
technology, TTYs back then, and then I got to Lucia and they had nothing. I mean nothing.
They called me deaf and dumb; that was a culturally ok thing for them. I would say they trail
the U.S. by about 30 years. So, it was difficult and frustrating but the surprising thing was
that I handled it very well. Because we’re already a minority in this country and we’ve
dealt with a lot those frustrations already. The hearing volunteers had a much more difficult
time than I had though. And I was able to adapt pretty well to the local community,
I made friends more easily, I found that I could adapt to that local life and culture
very well because of my experience here as a deaf minority.