As the Operation Allies Welcome mission at Fort McCoy winds down, Task Force McCoy and many Non-Governmental Organizations have been working to place Afghan families in the best possible places to support their needs — some of these needs are more special than others.
During routine checks, interpreters and Civil Affairs Marines with 3d Civil Affairs Group noticed Fatemeh, a 3-year-old girl, was deaf.
“In the villages where we come from there are no schools for unique children, especially in religious areas or small villages,” said Fatemeh’s father. “I think you could only find schools for deaf people in the big cities, but I’m 29 and have never seen it.”
Fatemeh’s father had not previously mentioned he had a deaf child. He didn’t think any services would be available here or where they get resettled, because he had never seen such services or support.
“After hearing that she was deaf I brought up the fact that I speak sign language and would be willing to teach her,” said Sgt. Carlos Munoz, a Civil Affairs Marine assigned to 3d Civil Affairs Group.
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With Fatemeh being so young she hasn’t needed to communicate much, but learning simple things can go a long way.
“It’s good because she cannot speak, for example she can’t say ‘Mommy’ or ‘Daddy’, but now she’s learning to communicate,” said Fatemeh’s father. “However, she is so small she still doesn’t know how difficult things are for her.”
Teaching sign language to an Afghan family is especially challenging and requires a very skilled translator.
“The language barrier between English and Pashto, then to American Sign Language (ASL), is especially challenging,” said Munoz. “With an excellent translator she was able to help convert English words to Pashto and we would all do the sign together, so we all had a mutual understanding of what the sign meant.”
Munoz is also teaching the father ASL. As Fatemeh and her father learn, her siblings should catch on too.
“Our interpreter wrote inside the ASL book we have for them and wrote the words down in Pashto as well,” said Munoz. “Doing that the father would be able to read and practice the signs over and over again.”
Munoz’s ASL lessons with Fatemeh are just the tip of the iceberg, but will pay dividends in the future.
“He is giving her a head start on her ability to communicate with teachers, specialists, and deaf peers once she resettles,” said Dr. Rosana Resende, Education Lead with the Department of State at Fort McCoy. “Hopefully through these sessions, her parents have also been able …….