lunes, 13 de enero de 2020

Deaf Expo, Ecuador Trip, and Christmas Celebration

When you sit down to read this post, make sure you have a few minutes. The holidays are always crazy, and the last couple of months have been full of amazing things! I have really been able to see God working in and through the Deaf community in the Dominican Republic.

My main focus in November was helping the National Association for the Deaf (ANSORDO) plan and hold the first Deaf Expo. It was a crazy few weeks trying to get everything organized. We ran into so many problems like sponsors dropping out, trouble finding people/companies to sell food, the venue dramatically changing the hours we could hold the event, etc. The day of the event arrived and, to be completely honest, I was not expecting very many people to come. Wow, was I wrong! The final ticket count showed that over 700 people attended the event! It was a huge success! Sure, there are a lot of bugs and things we can improve for next time, but we were all very happy with the end result. Many organizations that work with the Deaf community put up informational booths, Deaf people sold homemade products, and we had presentations by both Deaf and hearing (dances, songs, dramas, zumba, games, sharing of experiences, etc.). I was so busy that I totally forgot to take pictures, but someone sent me one of me talking to the community about the importance of standardizing and raising the bar for the interpreter training in the country.


The Biblical Society, which is the organization that is in charge of the Bible translation project that I am a part of, also set up a booth for two reasons. First, to let the community know who we are and what we're doing. Second, to show our translation videos and get feedback from the Deaf community. Do they understand the specific signs used? Does the syntax and grammar match their use and understanding of Dominican Sign Language? Are the classifiers and the use of space done clearly and correctly? Does it match up to what the Bible says? We got overwhelmingly positive feedback. The people who watched it were excited about the idea of having the Bible in a format that they can easily understand, in their own language.



Two days after that event, the Bible translation team left for a two-week conference in Ecuador. I had the honor of being able to go. What an experience! The United Biblical Societies has Sign Language translation projects in many countries, each team translating the Bible into the respective Sign Language of their country. Eleven translation teams from 11 countries in Latin America were able to attend this conference. A few weren't able to attend because of visa issues or political instability in their countries. The countries that attended were Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, Ecuador, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Mexico, Guatemala, Chile, and Costa Rica.


You may be wondering how a conference with so many different languages functions. Or maybe not. But I'm going to tell you anyway. Each country had a table, the interpreters sitting with their backs to the stage and the Deaf team members facing the stage. The first week, the presenters were two Deaf women from Mexico. They would present using Mexican Sign Language. Their interpreter sat close to the stage, facing them, and would interpret into a microphone in Spanish. The interpreters at each table would hear the Spanish interpretation and then proceed to interpret the message into their respective Sign Languages. I'm sure no information was lost in this process...hahaha...



If anyone had a question, they would go up to the stage with their interpreter, who would sit next to the Mexican interpreter and take the microphone. The Deaf member would sign the question, and the interpreter would interpret the question into Spanish. The Mexican interpreter (as well as the interpreters at each table, but in their respective Sign Languages) would hear the Spanish and interpret the question into Mexican Sign Language for the presenters to understand. The Mexican presenters would respond in Mexican Sign Language and the chain of interpretation would go back and forth like that.

The first week, we learned about setting up a recording studio, correct lighting, camera settings, and video editing. There was so much technical vocabulary! Us interpreters were struggling! Our team thought that we had our final product (5 passages from Luke) recorded, edited, and ready to be distributed to the community. In that week, we learned SO MUCH that we had to start the recording and editing process all over when we got back from the conference. Good thing we hadn't distributed the DVDs yet!

The second week, we learned about Biblical geography and culture. The presenter was a world renowned Bible scholar and Translation Coordinator for all of the Americas, Dr. Esteban Voth, who has participated in various archeological digs of ancient civilizations in Israel. I wish I could carry that man around in my pocket! Is that creepy...? I don't know how so much information can fit into one brain. I was almost too mesmerized by the fascinating information to interpret! We learned about the importance of putting ourselves into the culture and geography of any passage we translate because not doing so will lead to misunderstanding and misinterpreting many parts of the Bible.

The conference lasted from 8:30am-5pm every day and then we had homework most evenings. We did get one free day, which we used to see some of the tourist attractions in Quito, Ecuador. My favorite was straddling the equator and standing in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres at the same time!


When we got back from Ecuador, we only had one week to prepare for our annual Christmas celebration. We went out and bought all of the food, toys, baskets, decorations, and anything else we would need, which was no small task. On the Friday before the celebration (which would be on Sunday), we asked some of our Deaf church members and attendees to come help us do our annual big cleaning. We were expecting the few faithful to come and do this dirty, difficult work.  We were surprised how many found money to pay for their own transportation to come and help prepare their church for the celebration.


The coolest part to me is that it wasn't just the leaders and old faithfuls who came. In fact, a lot of them didn't. It was mostly the newer regular attendees. I can see new leaders emerging. They want to learn more about God and the Bible, take care of their church, change their lives, and impact their communities. They worked their behinds off to get that church in shape for a large-scale celebration.




The next day, it was time to prepare the baskets, decorate, put up the tarp outside (we had to have the event outdoors because we can't even fit inside the church on a regular Sunday), and do a final clean up. Another large, hardworking team showed up to help with that. It took about six hours, but we made around 165 food baskets, the decorations were beautiful, and everything was ready. The baskets were about 15 pounds each and included over 20 different types of food items.



This picture does not show even half of the room
The big day arrived and it started pouring down rain before the sun even came up. We just knew our little tarp had collapsed. We got there to find the whole outdoor area covered in mud. But, we also found a whole new, much stronger and more intricate tarp set up with many more tarps than what we had left there the day before. A wonderful man named Domingo, who is the bus driver for the Deaf school but has not really been involved with the church very much up to this point, had gotten there super early and brought extra tarps and tall poles. He, with the help of some of the Deaf who got there early, had set up a large, covered area. If Domingo had not shown up that day, the event would not have happened. Whenever the rain would let up a bit, a group of Deaf people would show up. We waited a while as they came in waves. One group finished the tarp setup, another the last minute decorations, another got started cooking lunch in the kitchen, another dried and put out the chairs, and many others were busy getting other things ready.

We began the celebration explaining why we celebrate Christmas, singing, praying, dancing, had a drama prepared, and everything was going smoothly. The children were inside having their own special program and having a great time. As soon as the pastor stood up to start preaching, the rain started coming down really hard. She got about five minutes into the message before the tarps started to give way and the crowd was getting wet. The whole thing had to be cut short because, as the Dominicans like to say, "Satan is dirty and he doesn't bathe." Regardless, we know that the seeds were planted and God will work with them. There were about 200 people in attendance, many of whom asked me about our regular church services and told me they are very interested in coming back.



We served lunch to everyone in attendance and then gave out the food baskets. We had just enough with a few left over to give one to each family. We also gave toys to each of the children.





A couple of days later, I headed back to the States to spend the holiday season with my family, which is always such a blessing. I also have had the opportunity to speak to many people about our building project and have received such an outpouring of support, financially and through prayer. We have almost raised enough to buy the land, which is an absolute miracle! We weren't expecting to need building budget estimates, designs, construction teams, etc. nearly so soon, but it's time! We still need about $5000 to buy the lot, so if you or anyone you know feels led to support this project, you can click the yellow "Donate" button on the righthand side of this page. If you are interested in being a part of one of the construction teams who will be coming down to help build possibly later this year, e-mail me at ashelamer@yahoo.com.

It is crazy to think how we got here. When I arrived in the Dominican Republic in 2016, the church had an average attendance of maybe 8-15 people. When we started the vocational training program in 2017, I hopped in the church van with a Deaf man I knew and asked him, "Where do your Deaf friends live?" He took me to their homes and we told them about the church. Some even hopped in the van right then and there. I then asked them, "Where do your Deaf friends live?" And on we went all day until we had a full van. We took them back to the church and, since that day, the church hasn't stopped growing. We now get no less than 40 on a regular Sunday and up to 200 at special events. Our church comfortably seats 30. If we want to keep making and growing disciples, we need a larger space where they can feel at home and call their own. We are well on our way to reaching that goal.

lunes, 11 de noviembre de 2019

Stretched a Bit Too Thin, But I Always Wanted to Be Thin

Is it fall? I really can't tell. No pumpkin spice anything, no Halloween decorations, no colorful leaves, no cool fall breeze. But we sure are excited for Christmas! Christmas lights and decorations have already been up for over a month now! I also know it must be fall because it's time to start planning our annual church Christmas party! More on that later.

The Bible translation is going well. The team will be traveling to Ecuador at the end of this month for more training and to present our pilot project (5 passages from Luke). There will be 13 (I think) other Bible translation teams from different Latin American countries at the conference. We still have a lot of work to do before then and are really praying that we can get it all done! We are now working with the Bible consultant. She told us that we are doing an incredible job with our translations, especially for a brand new team. She has been helping us with historical, conceptual, and language components that we missed or did not represent correctly. We are now ready to do the final filming and editing process!



For the past couple of months we have been offering financial planning and responsibility/basic business classes at the church. We have had a small but faithful group. The organization putting on the class is a cooperative called Coop Aspire. Cooperatives are basically banks, but each one specifically serves a particular type of person (teachers, lawyers, single mothers, vulnerable populations, etc.) They offer savings accounts and low interest loans. The ultimate goal of this class has been to teach the participants how to save and responsibly handle their money. We have also been working with them to develop small business ideas and are trying to get loans for the ones who have developed more concrete plans so that they can buy the equipment they need to get started. Some of the ideas have been to buy and sell cellphone accessories, a car wash, a barber shop, a hair salon, professional make up, and an empanada stand. I am really hoping that we can secure loans for at least a few of them and help them to get their own businesses started.



I had the honor of interpreting a personal finance workshop that was put on by one of the most popular banks here, BanReservas. ANSORDO (the national association for the Deaf) saw that BanReservas was going to be holding the workshop and got in touch with them. They agreed that it would be great if some members of the Deaf community could attend. We were expecting maybe 30 Deaf people, but 60-70 showed up! There were more Deaf than hearing people in the audience! If I interpreted it well (which is in question because the workshop lasted over two hours and I was the only interpreter hahaha) the Deaf participants were able to learn a lot. BanReservas is really making an effort to be more accessible. They are constructing ramps in numerous offices, holding sign language classes for their employees, putting braille on their signs, and more stuff that I can't remember now. The country really is making some incredible strides.


I also am part of the team that is organizing the first Deaf Expo, which will be Saturday, November 23rd. We are hoping that this will be a huge event bringing visibility to the Deaf community, their culture, and their language. It will be an all-day event with presentations, dances, songs, etc. from various Deaf schools and organizations that work with the Deaf community. People will be given the opportunity to sell different products that they make, there will be games and competitions, and it will  just be a really fun day. There is still A LOT of planning and preparation to do and very little time to do it!        


Following the formal agreement made between the Scouts and Infoiles (Institute for the Formation of Sign Language Interpreters), a small group of Deaf young adults were invited to participate in a Scout camp this past weekend. I was asked to go as their interpreter, along with another woman. None of us were really sure what to expect. One of the Deaf participants thought we were going to a fancy hotel. She was in for a shock! We spent four days sleeping on the floor in a school and doing tons of activities from 5:30am-12am every day. It was one of the most exhausting experiences of my life, but it was also a huge success. The group of Deaf men and women were able to participate with the Scouts without a language barrier. The Scouts really went out of their way to include the Deaf participants in everything. We planted trees, picked up trash, built a concrete structure to support a coral reef, gave presentations to the community, went to the 27 charcos (see the caption under the picture), participated in an afternoon of workshops and also held one of the workshops ourselves, had a bonfire, went to the beach, and much more. The hearing Scouts were so excited to have us there and so eager to learn how to communicate with the group of Deaf participants so that they could better include them in everything. It was a fun and heartwarming experience.

Planting mangroves

You can't really see it, but there are A LOT of bags full of garbage that we picked up in the area.

Los 27 Charcos de Damajagua is a place for people who like adventure. You follow a river down the mountain. Parts of it you walk, but other parts have a platform that you have to jump off of (as seen in the picture above) or water slides that are naturally made in the rock. The highest jump is 25 feet! It was quite exhilarating!
Giving a workshop about the Deaf community, sign language, and inclusion.

This is Clan 7, the group that took us under their wing for the weekend, signing the number 7.


I am very hopeful that this alliance will be a success and that more Deaf children, teenagers, and young adults can become Scouts. They teach so many important values, the importance of serving others, what to do in emergency situations, and much more. All of this is information that most of the Deaf community misses out on because there are so few people who can teach it to them in their language. Learning these lessons and incorporating the values could make a huge change in the Deaf community.


Obviously, church isn't all about attendance. However, the more people who attend, the more people who are reached. Due to the consistent attendance, we are seeing significant positive attitude and behavior changes in some of our members, and many have expressed to me that they would like to be baptized. How are we managing to get consistent attendance out of a group that is generally pretty unreliable? A while back, I started taking attendance during our church services in a little book. It was mostly just for our records. That way, we would know how many people attend each week and who they were, if someone has missed a lot of weeks and needs special attention, etc. It also helped us pick out who gets to go to camp. Some of our attendees began to question the book method, saying that it is too easy for me to make mistakes and no one would know. My solution? A big poster board stuck to the wall in the church so that everyone can see. This has been a significant motivator...When they show up to church, the first thing they do is count the number of "checks" they have and compare it to others! They then make sure I give them their check for the day. People I have never met before are showing up to church asking me to put their name on the list. We started adding hearts if they help out in the kitchen and stars if they help with general clean up. It has been rather hilarious and very effective. We are considering making a separate attendance list for Bible studies hahaha!

With Christmas right around the corner, the time has come to start fundraising for the party. As many of you know, most of our church members are very poor and cannot afford a proper Christmas dinner with their families. During our party, we prepare and serve a traditional Christmas meal to all who attend and we also give out large food baskets that help them prepare their own Christmas dinners and also include snacks and other such food goods. Toys are also purchased and given out to the children, who often do not receive any other gifts.

Last year, over 150 people showed up to the party. For many of them, this is the only time during the year that they learn about Christ. Some of them come back, some don't. Nonetheless, it is an opportunity that we cannot miss! If you would like to donate, you can click the yellow "DONATE" button on the right hand side of this page or here is the link https://www.paypal.com/donate/?token=DdlkOZe6JJ8g1o77HTUboUeZRjdrIOB9vsATspcL5Rg4W09_r4gWidBjIXWfeiXi9R_TVW&country.x=US&locale.x=US. We would really appreciate it! If you would like more information, you can e-mail me at ashelamer@yahoo.com.

Also, we haven't had much luck raising funds or finding a bigger place to move the church. Everything in God's perfect timing! Keep praying!

jueves, 3 de octubre de 2019

Growth and Expansion

Since getting back from my summer vacation, I have had to start using an agenda because I can no longer keep track of my schedule. I am working with so many different people and in so many different things. The first thing that I jumped into after vacation is a project aimed at training psychologists and interpreters who are interesting in working with Deaf clients. An organization called INFOILES (Instituto Nacional de Formación de Intérpretes de Lengua de Señas) has the goal of training professionals working with the Deaf as well as interpreters in specific areas. I have been asked to head up the psychology branch of these training ventures. I have been doing tons of research and am working on creating two different curriculums: One is aimed at educating psychologists about Deaf culture, basic Sign Language, the psychological reality created by being Deaf in a hearing world, therapeutic strategies for working with Deaf clients, etc. The other is for training people who are already interpreters how to be effective and ethical in the therapy environment as well as be knowledgeable in psychological terms and concepts in both Spanish and Sign Language. Needless to say, just preparing for this has kept me quite busy!

In September, various organizations came together and held the third International Symposium for Deaf Education. The symposium included parent education workshops in numerous cities throughout the country; two two-day workshops for teachers, assistant teachers, principals, psychologists, and interpreters who work with Deaf children and adolescents; and a four evening workshop for psychologists. Those were two extremely busy weeks! I first attended the two-day workshop here in the capital. I was warned that I might be called on to help the interpreting team, but was later told that I wasn't needed and simply sat back and enjoyed the presentations. That was day one. Day two in the afternoon, I was asked to help interpret. Heart beating out of my chest, I stepped up onto the platform to interpret in front of 300 people. I must have done alright because they asked me to be a part of the interpreting team for the two-day workshop in Santiago.
That's not me interpreting, but that's the room I interpreted for.




Second workshop in Santiago

The week after the two-day workshops, one of the psychologists (a Chilean man with Deaf parents who has been working with the Deaf in the field of psychology for many years) stayed an extra week to teach a four-evening workshop for psychologists interested in working with the Deaf community. I figured this would be a great opportunity for me to learn, to make friends with a real expert in the field, and also get contacts for more psychologists who may be interested in the training that I am preparing. It was very interesting, but not as informational as it was intended to be because the participants just couldn't get out of the mindset of deafness as an illness or a disability rather than a socio-linguistic minority that is disabled by the hearing society in which they live. The speaker was never able to get to the points he really wanted to make because the questions asked by the participants kept the conversation in the same circles. It was still a good experienced and was informative as I now know where I have to start when I begin to teach.

There were probably 25 more people behind us
I have also been doing some other random interpreting:

Me interpreting the news report about an event that I was interpreting in person hahaha!

This is a formal agreement announcing that the Scouts (like mixed-gender boy and girl scouts) will be opening their doors to Deaf children, teens, and young adults.
Doing some voice interpreting for a video created by the National Association for the Deaf (ANSORDO)

Though I haven't been able to be at the church nearly as much during the week, things are going very well. Attendance was down during the summer, but we are now back up to 40-50 Deaf attendees on Sundays and 15-25 for Bible study on Fridays. They seem to be really motivated and interested in learning more about God and His Word.

We are trying to teach them the importance of service, and as a part of that, I took a group to visit a young Deaf woman who was in the hospital. It was such a heartwarming experience to let them take the lead and watch them share God's love. They talked with her, comforted her, told her about Jesus and His sacrifice for our sins, invited her to church, and prayed with her. It was absolutely beautiful.



We have finally reached the point where we can no longer stay at our church location. We simply do not fit. Every Sunday, there are multiple people standing against the walls and others watching the service through the windows.
The empty chairs are people who were currently at the front asking for prayer requests
We have decided that we will have to find a new church building. It has been very difficult to find a place that meets our needs (Deaf friendly and large enough for a church and office space) that is in good condition, in the area that we want, at an affordable price. We are continuing the search but have come to the conclusion that we will need to buy some land and construct a church. The church cannot pay rent forever. This is obviously a long-term goal, but we are beginning the fundraising process. We have done some research and looked at some plots of land in the area. It looks like the plot of land will cost around $20,000 USD. This number is a little disheartening, and we are looking for more affordable land, but we landed on this number as a good goal because it will hopefully leave us a little bit to begin constructing. We know that God will provide! If you feel that God is leading you to contribute to this cause, you can donate to our non-profit at https://www.paypal.com/donate/?token=Ae94Q953-EQK1borj5oECdGCQNCDdmPEFellCaQkZcjkHypd2x79NXjLYdjzE1Nq6oIP50&country.x=US&locale.x=US. Please share this with your friends, as we will need a lot of support and fundraising ideas!

martes, 13 de agosto de 2019

The Summer Catch-up Post

Basically, since I posted last, camp and vacation have happened. Since I have been so bad about keeping up with the blog these past few months (and since you all probably don't care much about my vacation), I will try to wrap everything up as briefly as possible.

Pre-camp was mostly camp preparations, interpreting, and Bible translation meetings. We also got some American visitors before camp, which is always fun. They helped me with my work, taught a physical education class, went to various meetings with me, did a little sight-seeing, and got a bigger picture look at what is going on in the Deaf community as well as the interpreting community here.

The Bible translation project is going really well. Pre-camp we finished the gloss for 4 out of the 5 teachings of Jesus that we decided on for the pilot project and finished the last one after camp. We are now in the recording stages. We managed to film and edit The Good Samaritan before camp and took advantage of the gathering of about 275 Deaf people of all ages from over 10 provinces. We showed the video in chapel one night to see if everyone understood the signs that were used, and the feedback was very positive. Which was very encouraging!

Hannah helping interpret the photoshop and video editing training because my brain was so tired!
We also received training on how to use photoshop to add color to the drawings that will be used in the videos and how to professionally edit the videos. Fortunately, the two Deaf members of our team are really good at that stuff and I don't have to mess with it/mess it up haha!

We kind of put it all on pause during the month of July, and now we're back at it trying to finish up those five stories. Everything will be sent to a Bible consultant who will make sure that our translation is true to the original, intended message. And we keep going, step by step! It is a lot of work, but I'm having so much fun with this.

One of our Deaf team members got the opportunity to move to the States and will no longer be participating in the project. It is a great loss for us, but a wonderful opportunity for him. Please be with us in prayer as we choose the person who will take his place.

In my interpreting adventures, I ended up on TV again. Only this time, I knew ahead of time that it would be on TV. This one was a little different because rather than being a presentation, it was a TV interview with the National Association of the Deaf (ANSORDO). So, I would listen to the question from the interviewer in Spanish and interpret it into Sign Language, then see the response to the question in Sign Language and interpret it into Spanish. Going back and forth between languages like that was not easy! But it was a cool experience. However, I'm really hoping not to make a habit of this being on TV thing...



Leading up to camp, we found ourselves with a list of campers that way exceeded our budget and logistical abilities. We were looking at over 600 campers, 300 at the kids camp and 300 at the young adult camp. We were able to lower that to 500, but we still weren't sure how we were going to make that work with so few North American team members. How were we going to control groups of 50 campers as they rotate to their various activities?? It is an understatement to say that I was nervous.

Needless to say, as always, God provided and took care of things. Camp went very well. The Dominican leaders (most of whom used to be campers themselves) stepped up and made the whole thing possible. It is so cool to see the Christian leaders they have grown up to be.

We ended up with about 230 campers for the kids camp and about 270 for the young adult camp. Just like in our church, we have run into a very good problem with camp: too many people want to come! Camp Hands of Joy has become famous throughout the Deaf community here in the DR and everyone wants to attend. Moving forward, the camp leadership will have to prayerfully make some very big and difficult decisions about how to handle this good problem moving forward. Please pray that we make wise, God-led decisions.
Chapel during the kids camp. About half of the room isn't show.

Dramas

Discussion groups. These are so important because it ensures that the campers understood what was taught in chapel and allows them to ask questions and discuss.


This summer, I took the liberty of a month long vacation. I felt like I needed to get away for a while and really disconnect. However, I only got to disconnect to an extent because while I was gone, our church hosted a hearing aid operative. I organized as much as I could before leaving on vacation, but ended up talking to a lot of parents and organizing quite a bit from out of the country. Thank God for everyone on the Dominican side who stepped up and worked their butts off to make it possible!

Hearing aids were given to about 60 Deaf students from three different schools here in the capital. That was such a blessing! Not only were the children blessed by the donations, but now all of those parents know that there is a church here where their Deaf child can see and understand God's Word. Most of these children either do not go to church or attend a hearing church with their parents where they understand exactly 0% of what is being said. I am hoping to get more children in church now! Pray for that as well.






Before heading back to the States, I spent two weeks in Colombia with my Dominican sisters. We went to Bogotá, Medellín, Cartagena, and some smaller towns surrounding those cities. We had such a blast! For anyone who wants an incredible and affordable international vacation, I definitely recommend Colombia. Of course, one has to be careful and aware, but it is no longer the dangerous country that it was.







After two weeks in Colombia, I then spent two weeks in the States with my family and friends. As always, it is so nice to be home-home. I did very little relaxing, as two weeks is not much time to be back and spend sufficient time with everyone, but it was great. It is always hard to leave, but I'm also anxious to get back to work! Quite a bit of stuff accumulated in that month that I was gone!