Deaf, not dumb!

“What is it like to have a hearing impairment?”

If you are a hearing person like me, chances are you haven’t thought through such a question yet. Believe me or not but this question did start to cross my mind. You probably wonder how it all started. I was in the US back in September 2014 when I got the chance to interact with a deaf person for the very first time in my life. I had no idea of what it was like to sign or what kind of attitude I should adopt while communicating with deaf people. Quite honestly, I didn’t know what to say. I was literally stuck. I remember though I enjoyed watching the expression of this woman’s face while signing. I fell in love with every single movement of her hands, fingers, and eyebrows.

From that very moment, I decided I would connect with this deaf young woman from Nigeria no matter what. Later then, we became friends 🙂 I will always recall googling up “Happy Birthday ASL” because I so wanted to surprise her and wish her a happy birthday in sign language. Anyway, that very moment changed the way I saw what it’s like to have hearing impairment/loss.

There’s too much misconception about deaf people. If you are a hearing person who never got the chance to interact with deaf people, don’t worry because I hear you. I used to be in your shoes. I guess I wrote these 2 facts for people like you to meditate on. You don’t have to agree with me. That is not the point. My heart for these folks just prompted me to write this and share what I have in my heart.

  1. Deaf people are exactly like you and I

I had so many unanswered questions in my mind when I first got to interact with my very first deaf friend. Of course, she wouldn’t hear me if I talked to her in her back. She wouldn’t hear me if yelled out “Watch out!! There’s a car behind you!” The deaf cannot hear. I get that. But that is it. For one second, imagine you’re an educated deaf entrepreneur (1/ like you and I, some deaf folks get good education and some don’t 2/like you and I, there are also creative deaf people out there who can literally blow you away with their super far-fetched creative ideas to solve world issues) How would you feel if a hearing guy decided to go ahead and sign a contract in your name just because he thought that since you’re a deaf entrepreneur, you’re not able to read, think and sign the contract on your own? I am pretty sure this would not make you happy, right? (…) Like hearing people, they can have low or high IQ. It’s that simple. This reminds me of last August 12, 2015 (International Youth Day) when I organized this event named “Marenina aho fa mitovy aminao ihany” as part of YALI Madagascar activity. In English, it literally means “I am deaf but I am just like you”. The goal was for 20ish deaf and hearing youth to get together in one place and have mutual understanding. The outcome was super impressive. By the end of the day, the hearing folks ended up empathizing with the deaf guys; they learned all about who they are: their passion, their love stories, their vision…some even shared crazy things that cracked up a couple of people. But what I cherished most about this day was when came the time for the deaf to teach the hearing guys how to sign at the very end. I remember they were all over the place and all the hearing people were all so eager to learn.

–To respect the participants’ confidentiality, I cannot post the video here-———

What more? Like you and I, they have feelings. They get sad, excited, happy, angry… and yeah FYI, they fall in love too. ❤ FYI, they love selfies as much as you and I do haha.

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Embracing sad memories in the past can lead us to future success…

Reflecting back on my life trajectory, this is one of the things I have come to realize: embracing sad memories in the past can lead us to future success. Gaëlle

Reflecting back on my life trajectory, this is one of the things I have come to realize: embracing sad memories in the past can lead us to future success. Let me tell you why.

I had a rough childhood. I was bullied in school. It didn’t happen until I turned six, a tough year when my mom passed away. Her loss affected me deeply. I became really bad at school, and being penultimate in class was no surprise anymore. There is a day I will remember forever, when one teacher of mine humiliated me in front of the whole class. She said I was a dummy while literally pushing my forehead with her finger. Can you imagine how I must have felt after such a disgraceful incident? I felt miserable and I could not help but weep. I wanted to shrink until I became invisible, but I could not. I had no desire to come to class anymore, but I did. I tried to persuade myself that this was a nightmare that will one day turn into a fairy tale.

Fourteen years later, to my surprise, that very same story of mine inspired 20 young girls from the Peace Corps Volunteers’ Girls Leading Our World camp to keep their chins up while facing difficulties. And later, to my own surprise, the same story ended up inspiring many more youth groups both from the rural and the urban areas. I never thought that one day, people will look up to me this way.

Today, I feel like a conqueror, not because I’m the best (I know I’m not) but because then, I realize that my pain in the past has become a weapon for others to win their battle. This is what I’d call “future success”!

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When the American Center invited me to be their guest speaker at Friday Talk, I was unsure of what I was going to talk about. After I took time and thought of my life back then though, I realized that my life has taken a brand new direction since this word “volunteer” came to my life.

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I cherish such moments. It always feels so good to share like what I just did in this photo.

To me, volunteerism is this beautiful concept of Love that not only made me changed as a person but that also made me want to be a change maker in my little world. Wikipedia, Google, and Encarta have got their own definition of volunteerism. You might have yours too. But I personally love to think of volunteerism as a language of love. For a moment, I want you to think of your spouse, your boy/girlfriend, or just your loved ones (I am pretty sure you have at least this person in your life whom you cannot possibly imagine living without). What do you actually do when you want to show them love? The list is by no means exhaustive but I am sure these are things that you might do: telling them “I love you”; blowing them a kiss; spending quality time with them; reminding them how amazing they are; giving them gifts when you feel like it…For me, volunteering is exactly like that. I personally volunteer because it’s my own way to say “I love you” to my community. When I speak this beautiful language of love, I can see “hope”, “happiness” and “life” in my community’s face.

In his book “the 5 love languages”, Gary Chapman talks about 5 possible ways of showing love. As I started to speak these languages while volunteering, I could gradually amazing changes in people’s lives. I guess that is partly why I named my talk “Volunteer for change”…just because I was the one who got changed first when I first volunteered. Changing the world into a better one would have not made any sense at all if I had not been changed myself. To me then, changing the world into a better place is a choice that only you and I can make. I am actually learning how to speak this language of love everyday as I devote my time to volunteering. After all, practice makes better, right? I know it’s not easy but I know for a fact that the more I give the more changes I will see. That prompts me to keep it up no matter how hard speaking this love language might be!

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Q & A

“Share Love for change, volunteer for change”

Volunteer for change

(this is to give you an idea of what my Friday Talk presentation was all about. You would probably not picture the whole presentation as I was talking, interacting, moving and even ended up showing my audience 2 small videos but I am hoping thanks to this PowerPoint, you can at least get a sense of what it was like.)

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Volunteer for change

No rice, no life?

“What is this food or drink that you cannot get rid of as a person?”

I remember asking this question to a couple of young American friends of mine. I had this one friend go “I definitely cannot live without coffee” while another one said with no hesitation: “I cannot imagine my life without peanut butter”. She added she could eat anything with peanut butter (crackers, apples, etc). Not only did I find this very moment interesting as it gave me the opportunity to learn more about my friends’ culture, but on top of all, it literally made me think of what my answer would be and what my culture is like.

Don’t get me wrong! I am not speaking on behalf of all Malagasy people. Instead, I will just share some thoughts based on what I saw and heard as a young Malagasy girl that has been raised in Madagascar within a Malagasy family. If you read books about our island or if googled up “staple food in Madagascar”, you are very likely to find out that most of Malagasy people eat rice three times a day. If rice is not your staple food, you might think that eating rice three times a day is way too much, sounds crazy and is even boring. Good news is the Malagasy L.O.V.E it and have different ways of cooking it. Since what you eat rice with matters a lot, some families get very creative and mix up a lot of ingredients to make it as yummy as possible. Chances are that you will bump into rice recipes served with stew, fish, chicken, meat, peanut butter, vegetables, and even coconut milk.

I can devote an article to sharing delicious rice recipes around the island in the future but for now, I would love to share with you all 3 reasons why I am saying how much the Malagasy people love rice:

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I took this photo in the city of Antananarivo. I was in the middle of the traffic when I decided to capture this moment as I realized I was in the city yet surrounded by rice fields.

1. Rice = money

I remember last year back in September, I went to Alaotra Mangoro region. I had a couple of interesting discussions with mothers. But what struck me most was when this mother of 7 kids started to talk about how she paid for her children’s schooling. Like a number of people in the village where we visited, she and her husband have livestock and lands where they grow rice and cassavas. I was very surprised when this woman said “My two youngest kids go to a private school. And since my husband and I cannot afford the tuition and fees, we give a certain amount of rice directly to the school instead and it’s all good.”

2. Rice is part of our language

It’s amazing how much the love of rice can be seen in our language whether it is spoken or not. For those of you who speak English, what question would you ask a person if you wanted to know whether or not she/he had eaten something at noon? I guess your question would be “Have you already had lunch?” Am I right? FYI, where I am from, a ton of people would ask instead “Have you eaten rice already?” Another thing is that there is this pretty special thing in some classic/simple restaurants that we call “hotely” in a lot of places in the island. They would purposely omit to write “rice” on the menu because in their mind, rice is already implied. So instead of writing “Rice + X –> 5000 Ariary” they would only have the name of what comes with rice written. This photo I am showing is an example. On top of the board is written “Today’s menu” but right after this is written “eel”. In this case, “eel” is the very first option the clients have. Be prepared then, if you came to such Malagasy “hotely’s” one day, expect to get rice even if you didn’t ask for it 🙂

 

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This is a photo I took on my way down to Tamatave (eastern coast of Madagascar). We had lunch in Moramanga.

 

 3. Malagasy proverbs and arts treasure rice 

I have heard about 57 Malagasy proverbs about rice. I don’t know about you but this seems like a pretty big number to me. The Malagasy academy might even come up with a greater number but since my point was just to show you how much we care about rice; I would love to share with you one of my favorite rice-related Malagasy proverbs. Vary sy rano an-tsaha tsy mifanary, an-tanàna tsy mifandao. This proverb talks about what our attitude towards one another should be like. Literally, it says “rice and water in the field are bound to each other; and that in town they cannot help but be together”. This implies one of the most powerful values of Malagasy culture which is called “fihavanana”. This proverb teaches us the importance of being there for one another; the importance of not living just for your own self but the importance of living to make a difference in other people’s lives.

I am sharing this video as a bonus since it is a very well-known song sung by one of the most loved and appreciated bands of all time in Malagasy music called Mahaleo. It’s entitled Rano sy Vary…literally means “Rice and Water”. This time, “rice” and “water” imply the story of a couple who love each other. Enjoy!!!! 🙂

Thesis…do it or forget about your degree!

Believe it or not but my graduation was due a few years prior my actual graduation. Let me put it this way; I could only present my thesis a few years after an eternal struggle. What I am saying here probably doesn’t make that much sense (or doesn’t make sense AT ALL) for those of you who went to ‘normal’ schools. You study hard throughout your senior year; you read a lot of books; you stay up late at night; you make a lot of research; you sit for an exam (you name it)…and you get your degree by the end of the year.

In schools like mine, you are constantly under a deadline and a lot of pressure (I guess at this point we are on the same boat). You have a ton of assignments to do (Don’t get me wrong! Doing assignments is okay. That’s what students are at school for, right?). But what was not fair to me was having your ‘Professor’ come in class an hour late (could be way more than just one hour), yelling at you and make fun of you in front of the whole class because as the “elected leader of the class” you sort of made your classmates aware that 1-hour wait is way too much and that this should definitely stop. That person was me. I can still recall that we all left the class before our professor showed up. Maybe I was wrong I so wanted to lecture my professor on the value of time this way. Please don’t think I didn’t respect her because I did. But I just hate it when people are disrespectful. I surely was the student but hey my time is as money as yours so please Professor come to class in time. You can imagine how she felt when I met her (my professor) again later then. Angry. Mad. Furious. I was scold, humiliated, and screamed at. And you know what, she hasn’t changed a bit. She’s remained the same, always my late-comer professor.

During the same period, strikes equaled to trend in my university. Pretty much all the departments went on strike, of course mine did too.  All these things as a whole pissed me off and I decided to do things my own way. I started to do things that mattered to me. I helped out a number of organizations, clubs, and just people/friends do volunteer works. I LOVED what I did. I interned at the EducationUSA, one of the departments of the Public Affairs Section of the US Embassy. I’ve interned there for 10 months. And yeah, I enjoyed every single thing I did. But as a consequence, I forgot that I should come back to school and get my thesis done. Things went on and by God’s grace, I was selected to be one of the YALI fellows. This implied me going to the US to represent my lovely island. So during less than 4 months, I was in the US as part of the program. I was pretty positive when I left Madagascar and said to myself: “When I am in the US, I will study hard at Rutgers University (because this is where I went to for), I will do my best as an intern (I was placed at Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington DC), so on and so forth” and yes I also said: “I will devote an hour or so every night to working on my thesis so that as soon as I am back in Madagascar I will do my presentation and get my diploma”. Now my being too optimistic back then makes me laugh out loud. My schedule was SOOO hectic in the US. Hardly could I close my eyes at night. It was part of the fun, though. But the point is…to be honest, getting my 60-page book all written well was just NOT possible.

Now after my 14-week program in the US, I am back in Madagascar. I get an announcement saying my thesis presentation is due in a few days after my arrival. I was like: “Are you pulling my leg????” But of course they were not kidding. Along the invitations I received from youth clubs, schools, etc. to share my US experience, my thesis kept me very busy. I was working hard on my thesis…day and night. To my surprise though, on the D-Day, my judges and the folks who attended were blown away by my presentation. I couldn’t believe it could be done that well in such a short period of time. I have been praying, praying, praying because it was way too much for me to handle. But I did feel God’s presence all along the way. And you know what, for the very first time in my life, my professor would shower me with A TON of compliments. I even heard people say later then that I had the BEST grade ever and that therefore I was ranked 1st in my prom. To God be the glory! Writing a 60-page document about a customized program about voluntourism to empower girls through camps was not a piece of cake but God helped me find the right words, the right sentences and paragraphs until it became a whole book.

Lessons I personally have learned: if God has put something strong in your heart, and if you feel that it is really important to you, go for it, pray about it and take action. Move forward! See…I finally have my diploma….a few years later BUT now I have it. Yaaaaay!!! This verse helped me a lot by the way: “Commit your way to the Lord, trust in Him and He will act” Psalm 37:5

PS: These are a few photos taken during my presentation. Can you spot two flags? I had the US and Malagasy flags on the table because first of all I am very thankful for Madagascar (my country) and second of all I am thankful God used my US experience to inspire me.

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Life…full of surprises!!!

To me, going to the US last summer was such a big surprise. It probably was the best surprise I’d ever had in my entire life. I don’t know how about you but I have always been such a big dreamer. Furthering my education in America has always been one of my deepest dreams. I even recall that in my dreams, I would fly to the US in 2016 as a Fulbright scholar. God took me by surprise, though! He surprised me with an amazing program called YALI (Young African Leaders Initiative). So instead of waiting until 2016, He used YALI to make one of my dreams come true earlier than I could have ever thought. Yep, 2014 was definitely my year. It’s been thrilling that I have been to my dream country for less than four months.

Now on my way back to Madagascar, I really didn’t expect that another surprise was awaiting me. Just so you get the whole context, my initial itinerary was not meant to be US-London-Johannesburg-Madagascar but US-France-Madagascar instead. But since the airline which I got my flight ticket from went on strike, I had to go through another airline. A very close friend of mine texted me prior my departure day about how bored and pissed off she was while having a layover in London and South Africa. Taking that into account, I put my devotional book, my planner, my camera, and my computer in my carry-on. And I was like: “Okay, I am ready. If I get bored at the airport at least I know what I will be up to.” haha. When the D-day arrived, things went as planned. I went to the VA airport, got in the airplane, and flew to London.

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Here comes the surprise. I thought that like everybody, at least like my friend who left two days ahead of me, I would be bored to death  at the airport waiting for my next flight (which was 7 hours from then) …Do you wanna guess what happened? When I came to that counter (I will call it a counter. You know this place where you show your VISA and passport), the person there asked me whether it had been my first in London. Of course, I said it’s my very first in London because it was obviously my very first there. The person went on: “Have you ever wanted to visit London?” And I was like: “Yeah, I love traveling and London is definitely one of the places I have always wanted to go to.” (with a very big smile on my face because I really meant every word I said 🙂 Guess what? The guy took a stamp and issued me a VISA on the spot. I didn’t ask for it, I didn’t bribe him, I didn’t beg him to…but I was issued a VISA. You know what it implied. Yeeeaaah!! I could leave the airport and go see what London is like. I just couldn’t believe it. You can’t imagine how HAPPY I was. I had family there but my cousins couldn’t make it there because I was way too far from where they were. Plus, it was on a weekday so they were all at work. Hello adventure!

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I grabbed my carry-on, got all my stuff safe, checked the rest of dollars I had and had them exchanged into pounds. It was super exciting to live such an experience. You only have a few bucks in your pocket, you have no idea where to go but still…you go. I bought this metro card and got the map of London. In UK, they call ‘subway’ underground instead. It was pretty cool to hear the British accent again. It has been so long since I had heard someone speak with such accents. I could feel I was in London. It was super exciting to have that map on and decide which way to go. I had over 6 hours to go until my next flight. So of course I went on the underground and went to Westminster Station where I could take some photo shots by famous “Big Ben” and the “Eye of London”. And again…of course, I also visited the neighborhood which was very nice. It looked quite old but royal and pretty.

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What was pretty cool to me there as well is the cabs…You can’t imagine how cute they are. NYC cabs are all yellow but what makes the cabs in London special is that they all look alike. Cabs in London are called Hackney carriage…Check out this video I took. So cute, aren’t they? I wanna have one of these. Haha

You might wonder what this post is for. I just felt like sharing with you guys that sometimes we, as humans, have plans. We plan things out so much that we sometimes forget that we are only humans. Things are not under our control. We think we know what is going to happen at this very moment but we don’t know what is going to happen. At least, this is what I believe. In my story, I experienced that, I thought I would be stuck at the airport, taking photos, reading books and posting some Facebook photos but I left the airport instead and got to see the beauty of London from the outside. Life is sooo good!! Never forget that. I am personally convinced that life is full of surprises because God is full of surprises. Jesus will always surprise me! 🙂

 “I am personally convinced that life is full of surprises because God is full of surprises.” Gaelle

PS: My camera shut down pretty early so I couldn’t take that many photos.

I asked myself a ton of questions…

Was just thinking back of when I was on my back home from the US…

Gaelle, back to Madagascar

To me, asking myself over 20 questions is no wonder since that flight to the US was my very first. I had no idea what it was like to travel abroad; and of course I didn’t know either what it would be like to be back to where I am from again three and half months later. You probably wonder how I felt on that very moment…at the airport in Virginia on my way back to Madagascar! Well, it’s quite hard to say.

On my way to VA airport

  

“I had no idea what it really was like to     travel abroad; and of course I didn’t         know either what it would be like to be     back to  where I am from again three        and half months later” Gaelle

  Imagine you went to your dream country… You go there; you meet up with a…

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