lunes, 8 de febrero de 2021

Our 2020 in a Nutshell

Happy New Year, everyone! Well, here we are on the other side of 2020, tentatively hopeful. It has been a long year that has been interesting, sad, blessed, different, difficult, wonderful, infuriating, and maybe if we keep adding all of the adjectives we can come up with, we'll be able to describe it. I will try to summarize the important topics and events to catch you all up since I've been so undisciplined about writing.

The pandemic experience was quite different here than it was in the U.S. for many reasons, but let's not get political right off the bat hahaha. Things here never got as bad as they could have. The government acted quickly and decisively. There were maybe 100 identified active cases in the country when the government shut everything down: borders, businesses, schools, government institutions. Pretty much everything. The total shut down lasted a couple of months, and since then things have slowly gotten back to "normal". There are still many restrictions in place, including mandatory masks and a nightly curfew nation wide. There was a two week period during the first peak when the hospitals here in the capital and in Santiago were completely full, and it has been a problem again since the holidays as cases and deaths have risen dramatically. 
As for the impact on the Deaf community, infections have been surprisingly low, and there have been very few serious cases. I have heard of a few that passed from COVID and COVID-related complications, but none that I know personally. Seeing how the virus has impacted the country, it is honestly a miracle the way that God has taken care of the Deaf community.

The country has opted to start the school year virtually. I personally think this was a wise choice because a lot of the public schools do not even have running water. Most families can't afford to buy masks even weekly for the students. Keeping things clean and safe would be very difficult.
However, the virtual option has also proved difficult because of the large number of students who don't have access to electronic devices or internet. This digital gap has been somewhat dealt with by a government program that started two years ago in a school by school process of providing tablets or laptops to each student and teacher in the public school system. Almost every student and teacher in the country has received their devices at this point, including the schools for the Deaf and where Deaf students are mainstreamed. The internet is still an issue. Those who have a device and internet receive their classes via Zoom. However, many families do not have/cannot afford to install WiFi in their homes, and others live in areas where there is still no infrastructure to support internet connections. To address this, classes are being recorded and televised daily. The classes for hearing students are also played on the radio. The classes for the Deaf students started late (for many reasons, but let's stick with because they require certain adaptations that took more time), but they have turned out beautifully. A wonderful step towards making an effort for accessibility for the community. The elementary level classes are created separately and completely in Dominican Sign Language. The middle and high school classes are being interpreted using the classes for hearing students.
Each student receives a workbook monthly and must use their classes (Zoom or televised) to complete the workbook and turn it in at the end of the month to be reviewed by their teachers. It certainly isn't a perfect system, but I think it has been a very creative and appropriate solution to the difficulties and barriers of keeping education alive this year.

Living conditions:
Not much has changed for most of the Deaf people I know personally in the way of living conditions. Those who work for the government as teacher's assistants (many of our church leaders) have continued to receive their salary normally throughout the pandemic. The ones who don't work haven't been very affected. The government has provided multiple programs since the start of the pandemic, and some members of the Deaf community have been beneficiaries of these programs (delivering food bags to millions of low-income homes on a regular basis, a $30 USD budget for food monthly, programs to support employees who were sent home, etc.)

The current church:
Early on in the pandemic we had to turn in the keys for our old location. The owner was being (well, always has been) very difficult and it just wasn't feasible anymore. We are currently storing the church's possessions in an empty house owned by a family member for a low monthly price. We maybe could hold services there, but the house is not very big, not in great condition, and is a pretty good hike from the main roads where public transportation routes run. We have been reluctant to open because of this and also because of health concerns for our pastor and our church members. Another factor is the difficulty of organizing our members in groups to limit the number of attendees. This is much more complicated than it may seem...
We still hold our church services via Facebook Live on Sunday mornings and Bible study via Zoom on Friday afternoons. We get pretty good attendance, but a lot of our members and regular attendees have fallen away because of connection issues, electricity issues, loss of interest, and the like. Many of our members really enjoy the Friday Bible studies because they are able to participate, sing, pray, and ask questions. Doing church virtually has also allowed Deaf people from all over the country to take advantage of and participate in our services and Bible studies. In the capital, there are a good number of church options for the Deaf community where sign language is included to differing extents. However, in the other provinces, there are significantly fewer options. Most of the provinces are lucky to have one church. Many Deaf men, women, and children have no knowledge of or are unable to get to the nearest church that is accessible for them. The pandemic forced us to do things virtually, which made church accessible to so many more people! We can never doubt that even in the darkest of times, God is still working in and through it for the good and the glory of His Kingdom! If you are interested in seeing how our services have functioned, you can visit our Facebook page: Fundación para Sordos Manos de Dios.

The new church:
We have our eyes on some land and we have the money to buy! All we would need would be four walls and a roof to start holding church in person again, and we should have enough money left over to at least lay the foundation and get started. We are just waiting on the owner of the lot to get all of the legal papers together. This process has been slow because of the pandemic, but we are hoping and praying to have land very soon! We have a Deaf architect who has agreed to draw up the plans for the new church. We are very excited to construct a Deaf created, Deaf friendly space! If you are interested in donating to the construction project or would like more information, you can e-mail me at

What I've been up to:
I have been crazy busy this past year. Thankfully, most of my work was able to be transitioned to virtual. I even decided to set up a little studio in my room with a ring light, a white background, and a green background. We continued working on the Bible translation project. This year, we completed our translation of Luke chapters 1-5. We did everything but the actual recording virtually, which was a challenge because sign languages are visual and spacial languages. We were only able to get so much done this year because the pandemic had us all working from home, which allowed us more time to focus on the translation process. 

Doing things virtually also allowed us to include the Deaf Christian leaders from every region of the country in some steps of the process. Much like spoken languages, sign languages have regional dialects. Including the Deaf leaders in the process of standardizing name signs and checking the intelligibility of the translation for each of the regions was very important. We are organizing the distribution process of the DVDs and USBs now!

I also did a lot of virtual interpreting for many people and institutions, including the National Association for the Deaf of the Dominican Republic (ANSORDO). For the first four months of the pandemic, the Minister of Health gave daily press briefings and they were not interpreted. I decided to record a signed summary of the daily information and post it on the church's social media. This was a perfect hook to bring people to our page where we transmit and post our live services and Bible studies as well as short weekly devotions. The following on our Facebook page has increased dramatically, which means more people are being exposed to the Word of God.

If I started to list all of the things I have done this past year, this post would become a novel. I will mention that I was contacted to work as a psychologist for a new crisis hotline that was created during the pandemic to counteract the psychological impact of the pandemic as well as mental health concerns in general. I was hired specifically to work with Deaf people looking for mental health services in Sign Language, but I work with hearing clients as well. It has been such a wonderful and also difficult experience. I receive calls for a whole range of mental health concerns from "sometimes I feel a little anxious" all the way to suicide crises and domestic violence. It has been such an honor to be chosen to take part in this groundbreaking project. Up to now, the country has never had a service like this.

In summary, things haven't been easy, and sometimes it feels like there is no right answer. We are doing what we feel is within our grasp and possibilities to do, but it often feels like it falls short. We could use a lot of prayers for wisdom and direction! I promise my next post will be sooner, shorter, and will include pictures that aren't from Zoom meetings!