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The Joy of Serving the Disadvantaged

Apr 23, 2008, 7:55 AM | Article By: With Augustine Kanjia

Meet Daniel J. Mendy, a gentle man born in Makoumbaya after Lamin, who has vowed to live his life for disadvantaged children especially the hard of hearing or the hearing impaired of society. Daniel rose from the teaching ranks and finally studied and qualified as hearing impaired teacher which earned him recognition as a true lover of the hard of hearing. Augustine Kanjia takes a tour with Mendy to explore how he started and what he wishes for the government to do for these children that need so much attention.

EIG: Could you tell us about yourself please?

DJ Mendy: You know my name! I got married in church since 1986 to a very excellent woman who is my guardian angel. We have five children and we all live together happily. I hail from Makoumbaya and I attended the St. Peter's primary School and proceeded to the St. Peter's High School in 1980. There was a Clash Programme within that period sponsored by the World Bank, held at ATC in Lamin then. I qualified as a teacher then in 1981 and took my first appointment with the government at the Crab Island Junior Secondary. After a week of work  there, I was called to work at St. Augustine's High School, where I taught Metal work for three years. Colm Early asked me to take up part time teaching at the Catholic Mission House at Hagan Street in Banjul on gratis, only transport was given to me, I taught full time then at St. Augustine's High School. I taught the hearing impaired at the School for the Deaf at the Mission until my name was short listed and selected to be trained at the Mampong Akawapim Specialist Training College in Ghana in 1985. On my return I have been linked to the St. John School for the Deaf.

EIG: Did you do any training after that?

DJMendy: Yes! In 1989 I underwent an Earmould Fabrication for four months in Denmark. In 1992, I had the privilege to train in England in Audiology (BAAT) programme. (British Association of Audiology Technicians).

EIG: Did you hold any positions before getting to be the principal of St. John for the Deaf School?

DJMendy: Of course sir! I had served as senior master, under Mr. Jatta and rose through the ranks after being class teacher and vice principal then principal from 2003 to date.

EIG: Do you enjoy working with the deaf?

DJMendy: I keep saying I will do it forever. It is a call, a vocation for me. My dad said teaching children heard of hearing calling them 'Mumu' I would end up having them. I call it erroneous idea including those who with ideas that when one works with the deaf, the epileptic and others with difficulties you will end up having them. It has not happened to me and will never. It is not a factor for having such kids.

EIG: Are all kids in the school deaf and dumb?

DJMendy: No please! I keep saying it's an erroneous idea, it depends on different mechanisms. Tee on set is when it started. It could be the post linguistic stage. Those people make some utterances. Before birth, pre natal deafness are those ones who are profoundly deaf, there is a missing link for them to reproduce what was acquired. If not deaf the speech mechanisms are intact e.g. the tongue, lips, the larynx are not  affected. The lungs and all should be intact before he or she can talk. Our imput is stored in the brain. You can't play an empty cassette. Those with tongue and lip tight cannot talk. The deaf may lack the ability to control their breath.  Some people are born deaf but have talked later, not everyone deaf is dumb!

EIG: Do your kids do well through sign language?

DJMendy: Oh yes! Very well indeed, it's their main communication. We are bound to abide by their sign language. There are three approaches, signing; to enforce the spoken word. Through lip reading and thirdly imitation.

EIG: Have you any history to back up the fact about their sign language?

DJMendy: Since the inception of the school in 1998, it was mainly oral communication approach, whether they understood it or not until we realised in 1994 that we were not gaining much, our children were not taking any national exam. In the same year we opted for total communication in sign language through the VSOs. In sign supported language by total communication where we use both sign and speech is the dual way of even normal communication.

EIG: What happened then after your new dual approach of sign and speech?

DJMendy: We claimed success soon after the introduction of the dual system. That is the sign language and the talking. After a short time we realised that we had gained a lot. Their composition skills improved and in 1996 we opted for the then Common Entrance, registering 100% pass, meaning that the sign language was yielding dividend. We then set up Grade 7 to 9, Upper Basic and we got a 100% in the Grade 9 leaving Exams. Since then we have never got an outright failure. We got only 99% last the year before. This year we have four opting for Nusrat Senior Secondary School. The introduction of the Sign language and the total communication approach to led them to this giant success.

EIG: What would you say to the education sector of this country?

DJMendy: Presently, this is the first of its kind in the country. Deaf people are increasing every day. We are retaining those with profound deafness and they come from and to their home. Some are taking their children from school for lack of accommodation in the urban area. If government should create rehabilitation centres in  all regions for those the hearing and visually impaired including those with learning difficulties and they look for itinerant teacher services that would identify and place them correctly and offer the right services.

EIG: Are you thinking of a boarding school?

DJMendy: No! no! no! no! In every region like Bwiam, by way of service delivery, those areas could serve as catchment areas so that we render remedial service.

EIG: What else would ask the government to do for you?

DJMendy: The teaching of Sign Language on the television and radio could teach the populace. The hospitals have to look into the apparatus for those who need it. I know they are doing it but should do it in a much bigger scale by providing hearing apparatus and accessories.

EIG: Are there any misconceptions about the deaf?

DJMendy: Many ask if we teach Braille, it is not for us but for the visually impaired. Also there is nothing like "Normal" children. No human being is normal because we do not have all we need.

DJMendy: Any advise to the public?

I realise that deaf kids are always the last to be registered when schools reopen. Other children are registered first because they think they would save them at the end. Some of our kids about five of them are studying in UK, 5 are employed in US. Many have been employed in the country and one of them has won the best employee of the year. GPTC is thankful to the few they employed. We have our kids working all over the place, parents are to register their children just like the others.

EIG: Any last words?

DJMendy: The children at St. John's School for the Deaf start vocational training from Grade 4 at the end of Grade 9 they should be able to excel in carpentry, dress making, metal work and small scale interpreneureship. Six of our students are at GTTI doing pre vocation and computing. Parents need to support these kids to excel. I am urging all Gambians to be a wheel greaser if they cannot drive a train. God bless us all.

EIG: I thank you for talking so eloquently and allowing my interview.

DJMendy: You are welcome! You are very kind for coming.