Developing sign language for deaf in Cambodia

Cambodia has seen significant and consistent economic growth over the last decade but remains one of South-east Asia’s lowest-income countries. USA Today reports how Charles Dittmeier, a Catholic priest from Louisville, Kentucky, is helping the country’s deaf population and contributing to development of the nation’s native Khmer sign language.

Before 1997, as a result of decades of war, the country had no schools for the hearing impaired, no native sign language, and no deaf advocacy and rights groups. This was the situation that Charles Dittmeier found on his arrival in the country’s capital Phnom Penh. A French charity, Krousar Thmey, had begun teaching deaf students using Khmer-coded American Sign Language but it was considered necessary to develop official Cambodian sign language. Dittmeier began building a program to take into account the local cultural and linguistic context.

Many children come to the center he established from remote parts of the country, where they are often neglected and isolated. “Once recruited, the children start with several months of intensive sign language training - and it's often a transformational experience,” Dittmeier explains. “They finally have real friends, somebody to talk to, and a way to learn about the world around them. It's amazing to see it.”

The Maryknoll Deaf Development Program, run by Dittmeier, also aims to provide shelter, adult education, occupational training, and socialization for the deaf population. “The idea is to help them become self-sufficient, but a big part of what we do is just to give them the dignity and identity they lack in society,” Dittmeier adds.

Watch the video on USA Today

Source: USA Today