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Missionary teaches deaf Liberian children how to communicate

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An estimated 20 percent of refugees in Liberia are hearing impaired. A program called Hope for the Deaf offers communication classes.
Feb. 9, 2006

A UMNS Report
By Steve Smith*

David Worlobah penetrates a world without sound, where children who cannot hear are social outcasts. His aim is to give them hope for better lives in which they can communicate with each other — and with those people who can hear.

A United Methodist missionary, Worlobah teaches deaf children every day in the hamlets and streets of Liberia's war-torn capital, Monrovia. Many of the deaf children were abandoned on the streets by their parents or orphaned from years of civil war.

In Liberia, where needs are many, teaching the deaf is a low priority, but one Worlobah championed when he was assigned by the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries to the West African country. For many of his 47 students, Worlobah’s teaching is the first formal education in their lives. After spending two years in a one-room classroom building, he and his students have moved to a bigger building with four classrooms, a bathroom and an office.

Worlobah said his students must know how to communicate if they are going to survive in the hardscrabble country.

“This school was opened purposely to empower our unfortunate deaf brothers and sisters by providing them with opportunities to develop their full potential in order to lead a meaningful Christian life,” Worlobah said, in an e-mail from Monrovia. “Supporting (the) deaf program in Liberia is a part of the mission of the church. Developing the lives of the disabled is the work of the church of Jesus Christ.

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Neeko Dawasa, who is hearing impaired, shines shoes and takes classes to learn to communicate better.
“Learning how to communicate will help the children in our society contribute to the development of our society,” he said. “Communication is very important to the development of any nation. If they can effectively communicate, they will be able to share their own ideas and will be part of that development.”

Thanks to Worlobah’s Hope for the Deaf program, the children can express themselves clearly in sign language, and they’re able to read and understand the Bible. Worlobah said he worries about what will happen to this program as he struggles on a bare-bones budget to make ends meet and make a difference to those who might otherwise be forgotten.

Worlobah operates his school on a paltry $6,350, with materials, facilities, maintenance, and recently $100 to help with teacher transportation from the Liberia Annual Conference. His most critical needs are teacher pay, curriculum development, teaching materials and transportation, he added.

“Our budget is very tight in that about 75 percent of what we need to do is depending on the support of the budget,” Worlobah said. “Our floors are very, very rough, no floor mat. Our building is made of concrete bricks and plank. We are located at the ground floor. There are no desks in the classrooms and no air-conditioning. We do not even have a fan.

“Most importantly, we are trusting God for a bigger place as our numbers keep increasing.”

While never knowing whether the school will close, Worlobah said he looks to his students as the reasons for why he endures the work and financial hardships.

“These are people who want to develop and give their hope ? to develop some hope for the deaf,” Worlobah said.

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United Methodist missionary David Worlobah teaches classes for the deaf in Monrovia.
Scouring the neighborhood around the conference headquarters, Worlobah found a dozen or so children who had never seen the inside of a school.

Neeko Dawasa, 21, was shining shoes on the street corner in front of Worlobah’s classroom when the two met. Like many young people in this desperately poor country, Dawasa spends part of his day earning money to support himself and his brother, and the rest of his day learning to read and write from Worlobah.

Before meeting Worlobah, Dawasa didn’t even know how to make change. In a year’s time, he has learned that and more.

“School is good because I learn communication,” Dawasa said. “I learn signs.”

The Hope for the Deaf ministry is supported by the United Methodist Church’s Advance for Christ and His Church giving program. Donations can be written to Advance GCFA, designated for Hope for the Deaf, Advance #14365, and placed in church offering plates or sent to Advance GCFA, P.O. Box 9068 GPO, New York, NY 10087-9068. To donate by credit card, call (888) 252-6174.

*Smith is a freelance writer based in Dallas.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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