The Deaf Reach Program is an initiative of Family Educational Services Foundation (FESF), a non-profit educational organization active in Pakistan since 1984. FESF is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for all members of the community, especially those who are disadvantaged.
With one national language, Urdu, four provincial tongues (Sindhi, Punjabi, Pashto, and Balochi), and nearly 300 regional dialects, Pakistan’s linguistic diversity is like a beautiful carpet, interwoven with threads ancient and young. The regional languages developed over thousands of years, while Urdu came from northwestern India in the 12th century. Then, in 1947, English was made an official language as a legacy of British rule in India.
Now a small group of educators of the deaf intends to add one more language — this one not spoken. It is called Pakistan Sign Language, and its creators just may succeed in spreading its use across the country.
Schools for the deaf have existed in Pakistan since the 1980s; one of the largest in Karachi is the Absa School and College for the Deaf, where initial research was conducted to develop Pakistan Sign Language, or P.S.L., as it is known here. A Pakistan Association of the Deaf, with chapters in many cities and towns, was formed in 1987, when deaf people in Pakistan were not just misunderstood; often they were shunned or ostracized by people who considered them mentally handicapped and unsuited for normal life.
In the same decade, Richard Geary Horwitz, an American, and his wife, Heidi, from the Philippines, moved to Pakistan from India and added a new dimension to deaf education. They are the parents of a boy who had been born deaf, and for years they had worked with the deaf in the Philippines and in New Delhi. While visiting Karachi in 1984, they learned that their expired Indian visas would not be renewed. So they stayed here and started a program called Deaf Reach in a small classroom with 15 children from Karachi’s slums as well as their son, Michael. From it grew the Family Education Services Foundation, a network of seven schools that now stretches across Karachi, Hyderabad, Rashidabad, Sukkur and Nawabshah in the province of Sindh, as well as Lahore in Punjab.
By Bina Shah
Courtesy – NYT