Calling all graduates – email your stories and photos to email@example.com.
Daniel DiDonna Graduated from The Lake Drive Programs and Mountain Lakes High School in 2007.
Daniel was diagnosed with hearing loss when he was 18 months old and wore hearing aids until he got a cochlear implant at 9 years old. An impressive student and athlete, Daniel graduated from Gallaudet University this year. He swam in the Deaflympics in Taiwan and volunteered with Global Reach Out empowering Deaf persons in Guatemala. Here, Daniel DiDonna shares his unforgettable experience teaching ASL to Deaf Students, Special Education Teachers, Parents, and Hospital Staff in the Marshall Islands.
“I believe the Deaf students there deserve so much more…”
“Iakwe! (Hello!) This summer I was stationed in Marshall Islands, located between Australia and Hawaii. I resided there for nearly 3 months working with Deaf students, parents, special education teachers, organizational members, and the hospital staff. My purpose in going was to become an American Sign Language instructor, providing workshops for all who wanted to learn how to communicate with Deaf children and adults.
“Ever since I became a student at Gallaudet, one of my goals was to experience a global internship. I am interested in international and comparative education, especially among the deaf communities in other countries. Exposing them to the importance of American Sign Language and Deaf identity; other Deaf youngsters can aspire to dream and succeed!
“I had to expose the community in the Marshalls that Deaf people can do anything but hear as well as the importance of having an early stage of language foundation, especially through the use of sign language. Not only that, I was there to promote awareness about needs that Deaf children require in the educational system and serve as a role model as a Deaf adult. I also went with another intern named Mela Langinbelang, a Gallaudet student who moved to Hawaii from the Marshalls at a young age after she became Deaf from a bad fever. I was extremely lucky to go there with an actual resident of the Marshall Islands because I got to meet her entire family, delve into a completely different cultural experience and exposing my soul to the unknown.
“I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but I’ve been sleeping on a palm mat on the floor since I’ve been here in the Marshall Islands. Jelina had provided me a small bed when I first arrived here, but as I learned that the Marshallese custom was sleeping on the floor on a mat, I wanted to try it out! At the beginning, my first few nights were pretty uncomfortable as the hard floor smacked against my bony hips and shoulders. However, after a few days I became used to the floor and found myself drifting off to sleep soundly.” From Daniel’s Blog
“We taught at the Rairok Elementary School in Majuro. The sight of Deaf education in the Marshall Islands was difficult for me to comprehend at first. As an American, I was provided with plenty of resources boosting my education on a completely new level. I barely struggled through my school years because I had interpreters and supportive parents who cared about my knowledge and abilities as a human being. Here, it is a whole different story. The Deaf children are neglected, not necessarily neglected, but deprived of their education because many adults simply do not know how to communicate with their hands. With this, many young students just sit in class and stare into space without understanding what is going on in the classroom when the regular teacher is teaching.
“There, all the schools lacked a centralized education for the Deaf and the resources used to teach was very limited. Working with few materials, I had to search for other ways to approach the students in getting them to understand what I was about to teach them. Unfortunately, the reading and education levels among the students were quite low. I worked with a couple of teenagers who did not know how to spell their own name, how old they were and so forth. However, the Deaf students have their own dialect sign language but isn’t sufficient enough to truly express how they think and feel. Going there as an American Sign Language instructor and role model, I was able to bring a new form of communication for the students—a language of self-expression.
“This week was filled with quite a lot of over-expressed and huge signs.. I reviewed the concept of birthday; month, day, and year. I mainly focused on self identity this week where the students learned how to express their birthday in a clear manner.” From Daniel’s Blog
“I found myself wondering how we interns would be able to teach almost 30 students each day for four hours if they had varying levels of knowledge. More and more questions began to swarm through my mind–and it did not help that the work ethic and pace of time is totally a 360 degree turn from what I am used to in America. Used to stress and typing a million term papers throughout my semesters, being on the go constantly and consistently getting every task done on time. Here, everyone is like “meeting time at 2:00” and then I find myself waiting in a chair in front of an empty table for at least an hour or two. This was one of the cultural frustrations I faced during the beginning of my internship, adjusting to Pacific Time. I thought I could chill to the max, but I was completely wrong.
“I found myself remembering that I was not in America anymore. I am just an intern who came here to help; I cannot change everything overnight despite my frustrations. I used the best of my knowledge and tools that would further support the community here and just keep in mind that I am an intern who is here to plant a seed. By planting the seed, I can only hope for the Marshallese to take in what Mela and I have taught them so far and build from there. As each day passes by, I am becoming more emotionally attached to the Pacific Islands.
“ I will be working with them again for the last two weeks of July in preparation for a talent show tobe performed in front of the community. This is a way to boost their self-confidence and express themselves in their Deaf identities, because in the end they can gain the respect from the community to a further extent. Quite exciting!”From Daniel’s Blog
“There was one student that really struck me, only a mere 3rd grader but she had the energy of a rebellious teenager. Mary, a small and tiny girl with the biggest smile and sparkly eyes resonated ever so strongly as Mela and I worked with her. She became “hungry” for knowledge, she wanted to learn more and more. Mela and I opened up her world to a new perspective, just because we gave her the ability to communicate with her hands. From that moment and on, we had a huge impact and changed her life forever. That kind of rewarding experience just brings me goose bumps every time I think about it.
Still today, I find myself wondering, “I actually went there and did all that? No way, it all feels like a big surreal dream that never happened in the first place” but I will always know this for sure, the memories and their people will always be cherished in my heart forever. I plan to go back again this summer for a longer term, I believe the Deaf students deserve so much more and what I did within three months there still doesn’t feel like I did enough. Someday soon, my spirit will find its way back to the Republic of the Marshall Islands!”
“ I still cannot believe I am experiencing this kind of opportunity; this is something that will stay with me forever as well as change my perspective on many things. Not only that, this makes me more appreciative of myself as a person, as a human being, and should be thankful for whatever life has to offer! From Daniel’s Blog
“I actually feel at peace with myself, quite satisfied with what I have achieved and done in the past 8 years. I set many ambitious goals, only to push myself past my limits, to see what I was and could be capable of.” From Daniel’s Blog