American University of Beirut

Teaching Sign Language is an Art of Public Health

What would you do if someone approached you on the street and asked you for help? What if you tried your best to understand them, but could not? Mona Ramadan was deeply touched when one day a deaf person approached her trying to express himself. “I felt that he was asking for help. I could not figure out what he was trying to relay because at that time I could not understand Sign Language," Mona recalls.  She left with a heavy heart, went home, and started looking for a school that teaches Sign Language. A year after this encounter, Mona became a Sign Language instructor and interpreter.

Mona lives in Egypt. She has been volunteering since she was in high school. She has continued doing so during her college education and after she earned a bachelor's degree in social sciences. Despite her full-time job as a teacher, Mona finds the time to volunteer to teach Deaf persons Sign Language. “It is a two-way learning experience. The more I interact with Deaf persons, the more Sign Language I learn," said Mona. She adds, “Sign Language is not universal. For example, Sign Language in Europe differs from Sign Language here in Egypt. Each country has its own Sign Language. It is like speaking two different languages." Mona also gives workshops on Egyptian Sign Language to university students and anyone who wants to learn it. “We need to learn Sign Language to communicate with Deaf persons so people can communicate easily with each other. People with hearing disabilities should have the same opportunity to communicate and contribute to society as any person who can talk. That is why it is important to teach Sign Language to people who can talk to enable them to communicate with those who cannot," explains Mona. She also teaches the etiquette of communication with Deaf people to those who are interested in learning Sign Language-- what is called the psychology of the Deaf. Mona also interprets television programs and news in Egypt.

Mona is proud of the special connection she has with the Deaf community. She is delighted when one of her ex-students contacts her and shares with her their news. She sees it as a sign of trust. Mona notes, “Deaf persons often feel that they are excluded from their societies. As a result, many choose to shut down; they do not open up and express themselves easily. When they do open up, it is a significant sign of trust."

Beautiful souls always shine when put to the test. That day, Mona could not communicate with that person on the street. But her compassionate heart has chosen not to look away. Instead, she has decided to cast rays of sunlight onto the world by helping Deaf persons integrate into society. This is social inclusion in one of its best forms. This is an art of public health.​​

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