Did you know that Ma’am Coryell already recognized Filipino Sign Language?

Disclaimer: I am not an official biographer of Rev. Aimee Ada Coryell. I don’t know if she has one. But I certainly am not for one simple reason, I have only been with her for a very few short days. However, here are the significant details that I personally learned from fellowshipping with her.

Ma'am Aimee (left) and her mother
Ma’am Aimee (left) and her mother

After publishing my recent post about Ma’am Coryell and shared it in Facebook, I received an upsurge in my blogsite visits. I even had inquiries about the book and where to get it. So I decided to make a follow up post about this strong-willed American missionary by listing down three most significant trivia I learned about her. Here they are:

Did you know that…

1. … Ma’am Coryell has already observed and recognized the existence of Filipino Sign Language?

Long before the interest about a unique language used by the Filipino Deaf started to gather support in the mid-90s, Ma’am Coryell has already been using them since the early 1970s. As an American missionary and teacher, Ma’am Coryell is a product of the Peace Corp Volunteer Group that was stationed in different parts of the Philippines. She was a native American Sign Language (ASL) user and has taught this to the Filipino deaf.  As a founder of DEAF School in Laguna in late 1960s, she has strictly implemented the use of ASL in classes due to limited sign vocabulary. However, she has noticed that her students have been using signs that are distinctive to them and which has been slightly diluted with the signs used by deaf community living in Manila.

But because the Laguna school is somewhat isolated from the rest of the community, they have developed their own peculiar signs. That is why during the nineties, teachers for the deaf as well as sign language interpreters have categorized the educated deaf according to the community where they belong. Labels like “Laguna Sign”, “Philippine School for the Deaf (PSD) Sign or Manila Sign” and “Bohol Sign” have been widely branded.

Ma’am Coryell has already identified the inherent weakness of the deaf in accessing the written language that is why she included mostly ASL signs in her book “The Basic Way To English for the Deaf”. However, if there are words that she has observed that have signs commonly used by the Filipino Deaf, she incorporated them in her book.

Back Cover Page of the book “The Basic Way of English for the Deaf”

At the back cover of her book, notice the use of “G” hand which is gun shaped and the “T” hand. Both are Filipino Sign Language fingerspell. There are other “FSL signs” that appeared in her book. Although she did not name them as such because Filipino Sign Language has only been coined in mid-90s, she often refers to them as Philippine Signs.

2. … Ma’am Coryell does not know how to speak Tagalog?

I already mentioned this in my previous post so I will just copy-paste it here. Did you know that despite of staying here for many decades, she still cannot speak clear Tagalog? She can only utter perfect “PARA” to tell the jeepney driver to stop. I politely asked her why she never became fluent in Filipino. She confessed that she too has a problem with her ears. She is having difficulty hearing Tagalog pronunciations and diphthongs (sound formed by the combination of two vowels in a single syllable). But what she lacked in learning the local language, she compensated it with her love to the visual language of the Filipino Deaf.

3. … Ma’am Coryell is a speed typist?

On a manual typewriter, the average person types between 38 and 40 words per minute (WPM), what translates into between 190 and 200 characters per minute (CPM). However, professional typists type a lot faster — on average between 50 and 60 WPM. The rate is quite different in a digital keyboard which is being used in laptops and Personal Computers. Ma’am Coryell “boasts” of typing an average of 85 words per minute! Believe me, I’ve seen her do it.

She explained to me that as part of their training as a Peace Corp Volunteer, they are required to acquire and master skills that they can teach to their assigned country. One of them is using the typewriter to create reports, documents and even correspondents. She wants to accomplish things fast and perfect. I believe Ma’am Coryell is the only one who typed the contents of all four of her books.

I added an image of a manual typewriter here for the benefit of new generation of technology users who have never experienced, much less seen what we have been so much accustomed of using. My Dad gifted us one similar to this when we were still in grade school. This is one of his special gifts that we cherished a lot aside from the Kolski piano. He gave us tools to harness our skills. That is why I can type at least 65 words per minute.

If I may be permitted to quote Sir Carl Aguila, a former professor of Dela Salle College (now university), he described her like this,

Rev. Coryell is the closest thing the Philippines has to a “Mother Teresa.”

I couldn’t agree more… 🙂

By the way, for those who want to have a copy of her book, I am sorry that ours are already library copies. I’m not sure that they are still printing these books. But you can try to contact them to inquire through this:

c/o: LAMOIYAN CORPORATION, Km. 15 West Service Road, South Luzon Expressway, Parañaque City, 1700

or the school’s official website at: http://deaffoundationinc.com/contact/

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HIV-AIDS Talk in Filipino Sign Language

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte signed the into law in January 9 Republic Act 11166 or the “Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act of 2018”.

Under the law, the government is mandated to establish programs and policies and adopt a multi-sectoral approach to prevent the spread of HIV, and ensure access to HIV and AIDS-related services “by eliminating the climate of stigma and discrimination” on patients.

The Philippine National AIDS Council is reconstituted and streamlined to ensure effective implementation of the country’s response to the spread of HIV and AIDS among the population. It also provides penalties to people who will discriminate against HIV-positive individuals and enables minors 15 years of age to get tested for HIV.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque has lauded the recent signing as well as informed the public about the alarming rate of increase in persons infected with the virus. Latest data from the Department of Health (DOH) showed that 945 newly-diagnosed HIV cases were recorded in November 2018. This is truly a cause for alarm because it also affects the Filipino Deaf. I even heard of one deaf who died of complications due to AIDS.

Nearly a week ago, Outrage Magazine, the only publication dedicated to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) groups in the Philippines uploaded a series of videos in their YouTube Channel explaining the nature as well as how to get an HIV-AIDS Test in Filipino Sign Language. This to me is very timely as well as helpful in raising the AIDS awareness among the Filipino Deaf Community.

Pinoy Deaf Rainbow Logo
Pinoy Deaf Rainbow Logo

There are a significant number of deaf who belong to the LGBT community. They even organized a group called Pinoy Deaf Rainbow and has been participating in many related activities like Pinoy Pride and beauty pageants. I believe most of the actors that appeared in the Outrage YouTube videos are members of this group. They have and active Facebook Group Page aside from the YouTube Channel.

Here are the YouTube Videos from OutRage Magazine. Please click on each video to watch it.

1. Let’s Talk About HIV

2. Getting Tested for HIV

3. What Happens After You Get Tested for HIV

In behalf of this blogger, I warmly salute Outrage Magazine for creating these videos explained in Filipino Sign Language. I am very positive that these advocacy videos will enlighten our entire Filipino Deaf Community, not just the Deaf LGBT group.  🙂

Ma’am Aimee Coryell, an American Christian with a caring heart for the Filipino Deaf

maam coryell flowers

Three weeks ago, December 27 to be exact, her Master told this lovely “DEAF” lady, “Well done, my good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of the Lord!” At 96, Rev. Aimee Ada Coryell went home to her Master…

I still remember how she proudly told me that she walks seven kilometers uphill to Deaf Evangelistic Alliance Foundation School (DEAF) in Cavinti, Laguna almost twice a month! These past years, advanced age has caught up with her. She can hardly even stand during her 93rd birthday. She was on and off the hospital while staying at a halfway house in Caloocan and attended by one of her deaf wards.

From Left: Ma’am Sarah Santa Ana of DEAF School in Palawan, me, Sir Cecilio Pedro of Lamoiyan Corporation (makers of Hapee Toothpaste) and Sir Salvador Cuare of DEAF School in Laguna

During her wake at Sanctuarium in Quezon City, I was blessed to fellowship with the man who took loving care of her legacy, Sir Salvador Cuare, the principal of DEAF School in Laguna. He still remembered me when we visited the school so many years ago. I confessed to him that I was there to honor and pay dear respect to a very wonderful Christian woman who has faithfully devoted her entire life preaching the gospel to those who cannot hear. A strong “Amen” was his thankful reply.

The Philippines, although Catholicism is the majority faith, has a significant number of other Christian denominations and groups. This also holds true with the circle of deaf groups. Many Catholic parishes as well as schools and laymen’s organizations embrace and support the deaf community. I have many friends who belong to these groups and I attended and fellowshipped with them at times although I don’t participate in their church activities. I am personally involved with non-Catholic Christian groups, specifically the Baptists and Evangelical churches. Ma’am Coryell belongs to this family.

Almost sixty years ago, or in 1961, a mother-daughter American missionary team (the late Ada Mable Corryell and her daughter Aimee Ada Coryell, staying in the Philippines and still serving the Lord through DEAF, Inc.) arrived from Japan and saw the urgent need in our country to help our hearing-impaired Filipinos and to share with them the Gospel. And so DEAF, Inc. was organized and registered as a non-profit organization in 1969 to formally educate the Filipino deaf.  (from Manila Bulletin column)

I made a few Facebook posts during her birthdays although I never attended in any of it. But I made it a point to be there in spirit and in prayers. I was one of the many many deaf and hearing people whom she has touched and have been influenced by her Godly words and actions.

Manila Christian Computer Institute for the Deaf was one of the schools that Ma’am Coryell has graciously collaborated with. Among the many wonderful activities we shared was assisting her in the publishing and promoting of her four books, “The Basic Way to English for the Deaf” in 1996. We continue to use this as our guide book in our English and Sign Language classes.

The Basic Way to English for the Deaf

She even expressed her gratitude by adding this on the acknowledgement page:

Thanks goes to Remberto “Jojo” I. Esposa Jr. and family of the Manila Christian Computer Institute for the Deaf Foundation, Inc. for the instructions and help they gave on putting the first book into the computer. 

Acknowledgement
Acknowledgement Page where Ma’am Coryell mentioned my name…

Although I was not able to spend a longer time with her unlike many of her deaf students in Laguna, those times I had with her were very fruitful and very humbling. Did you know that despite of staying here for many decades, she still cannot speak clear Tagalog? She can only utter perfect “PARA” to tell the jeepney driver to stop. I politely asked her why she never became fluent in Filipino. She confessed that she too has a problem with her ears. She is having difficulty hearing Tagalog pronunciations and diphthongs (sound formed by the combination of two vowels in a single syllable). But what she lacked in learning the local language, she compensated it with her love to the visual language of the Filipino Deaf.

I was blessed to personally experience how she has dedicated her life not just in educating the Filipino deaf, but also taking care of their physical well being. One time, I was with her in going to a government hospital in Quezon City to check up on a poor deaf girl who was confined there. She explained that there were no big hospitals in the province that are willing to accept her. That is why she took time to bring her all the way to the city. Ma’am Coryell also has no money during that time so she persuaded hospital officials by pledging herself as security for payment of bills so that they can attend to the deaf girl.

Alumni of DEAF School in Laguna who attended the wake
Alumni of DEAF School in Laguna who attended the wake

In behalf of the Board of Trustees of Manila Christian Computer Institute for the Deaf, we humbly salute this wonderful woman of faith and courage serving Christ by giving education to the Filipino deaf. Thank you very much for offering your entire life evangelizing the Filipino deaf and making MCCID as one of your partners in bringing hope to them. We will continue to freely host the unofficial website of DEAF Inc. which was designed by our deaf students in 2006 as our own small way of saving her legacy for future generations who would like to search online about her wonderful works.

Deaf Evangelistic Alliance Foundation, Inc. Unofficial Website designed by MCCID Students

Link: http://www.mccidonline.net/deafinc/welcome.htm

 

What Desa Bengkala Taught Me about Language, Access, and Interpreting

This is a re-post from the Facebook note of one of my dear friend Vanessa Urbantke who is currently doing a swell job helping deaf people in Bicol, Philippines. I requested her if I can put it here in my blog and she gladly accepted. 🙂


Bengkala Community

Recently, I had the privilege of visiting a small village in northern Bali, Indonesia. The place sparked my interest after a Google search the previous evening, where I read that those living in the village carried genes that gave rise to hereditary deafness and a rather large population of deaf people. I wanted to see this community and learn about their own unique sign language, Kata Kolok (Deaf talk), which was used by the Deaf and hearing alike. I did not know that my experience would be so much more enriching that previously anticipated, and that my experiences with hearing people along the way would help me understand the linguistic complexities facing the Deaf community.

I am not a sign language interpreter, but I have many Deaf friends and sometimes, I am called to help get the message across. Over the years, I have been witness to their struggles and even started to think I had come to truly understand their situation. There are times when I find the ignorance and indifference of hearing people hurtful and offending. Yet there is nothing more effective than learning from experience. I would like to think that if we all had a chance to be different for a day that we would be more accommodating as a society for people with disabilities and for people who are from minority groups.

As a multilingual hearing person with English as my first language, I never experience difficulty in accessing information in my own language the same way the Deaf do. When I ask a question, I usually get a good answer. There is always someone around who can explain things, and always someone I can talk to. When someone does not understand me, it is usually quite easy to find someone who does. My friends are not as fortunate – very few hearing people know any sign language beyond the common gestures, which has adverse effects on employment opportunities, quality of education, and also limits the depth of friendship outside of the Deaf community. Just as I had trouble connecting with the hearing Balinese when they did not speak English, the same goes for a Deaf person in a hearing society. This tragedy means that we miss out on each other. A hearing mother who never has a meaningful conversation with her Deaf daughter should be something we can all lament over. A deaf student who sits for years in a classroom with hearing pupils, never having experienced the richness of Deaf friendships and what it means to truly understand should be something we all disapprove of.

As a hearing person with many Deaf friends, I deeply enjoy the community and sense of belongingness that when with them. It is a special feeling to be in the silent crowd yet also be connected to those around you, however unknowing the others may be. Yet this feeling of isolation, what I deem as special, is an everyday reality for my friends. I never realized how difficult of a reality this really is until recently. Perhaps it is because I have forgotten about my early days in the Philippines, which was a half-baked experience as it was because of the widespread prevalence of English in all aspects of life.

I learned a lot more than a handful of Kata Kolok signs and Indonesian words in Desa Bengkala. My experience has helped me to reflect on my years of working with the Deaf and has enabled me to understand their struggles in a completely new light. To be misunderstood is one of the worst feelings in this world. It is a dehumanizing feeling, one that leaves us hurt and angered yet helpless to express any of those feelings. To be shut out of the lives of others, to remain on the fringe of family affairs and public life simply because of differences in language is an immense tragedy. From the standpoint of English, even in a place where people do not speak it, the language itself still gets respect. But in the case of the deaf in the rural Philippines, sometimes their language is dismissed altogether. Language is what makes a people, and for the Deaf, it is Filipino Sign Language that they hold pride in, it is what gives them their identity and it is the language in which they can best access information and express themselves. Failure to recognize Filipino Sign Language has a negative impact on all aspects of a Deaf person’s life, whether at school, in the workplace, or at home. Of course, a day in Desa Bengkala did not allow me to experience all the complexities of language access, but it did help me feel more empathetic towards the Deaf community.

Reflections on Interpreting

When I arrived at the village, the first thing the motorbike driver did was to help me find someone who speaks English. We went from house to house, and in each house I stood in the doorway or sat on a floor mat completely lost in translation. I would not have been able to tell if they were plotting to poison my drinking water or were truly sincere in helping me. Luckily, it was the latter. After a few tries, we found a guy who knew a few more English words, not just “no”. We did not very far though, and soon I decided it would be best to hang out with the kids since playing was more of a requirement than talking. I really went to the village to visit the Deaf people, who at the time of my arrival were at a funeral. I did not have anything really important to say to any of the hearing people, so failure to find a decent interpreter was more of a nuisance and not a big deal at all.

However, on the bus ride back to the south, I had an encounter with the bus driver. He was coming onto me, asking me constantly in the only broken English that he knew, “you, me, hotel later.” I brushed it off at first, until he started pushing up against me physically and staring at my chest in the cramped seat. I knew that we were headed to a desolate bus terminal at the end of the line, and he knew that I did not know my way around. People on the bus were looking at him in a very disapproving manner, the women almost upset yet not ready to speak out. No one spoke English, and I found myself limited to gesture in trying to explain the situation. When I did this, the man would laugh and talk over me, and people would answer back. I understood nothing beyond the tone of their voices and the looks exchanged, and it was enraging. After a day in the village, I was armed with only a few fitting words that had stuck in my memory: “gila (crazy)” and “Saya tidak mau kamu (I don’t like you)”. Correct or not, I was understood. Yet simply calling this man crazy and telling him that I did not like him was not even close to what I wanted to say. I was not expecting a good English speaker to pop up out of nowhere, but had one been on the bus, it would have given me a lot more power and made me a lot less weary of the whole situation.

This is exactly what many Deaf people experience in their daily lives – the lack of skilled interpreters disables them. Without a decent interpreter, proper exchange of information is not possible. Oftentimes, I am hesitant to interpret. I do not refuse, but I somehow always feel that I will not do justice to the job. But now, looking back at my experience on the public bus in Bali, perhaps I should put more effort into it – not many hearing people know sign language where I live.

And just to let you know, I ended up getting off of the bus before arriving at the terminal, and I never saw Agong Rai after that.

While being unable to speak Indonesian was a disadvantage, I really only spent 3 hours with people I was not able to exchange a decent word with, and that pales in comparison to those who endure this for a lifetime. Yet even though it was for a mere few hours and the experience rather enjoyable and interesting, I looked back on it the day after and thought to myself, “now this is what my friends have been telling me for years – this is how they feel”. Comfort in Community

Ultimately, it was the Deaf residents of Desa Bengkala with whom I connected with the most. Language barriers across different sign languages are a lot easier to overcome than those in spoken languages, so it was not that difficult to have a decent conversation. Even if some was downgraded to gesture, at least it was a colorful mime of sorts that was well understood and enjoyed.

Many Deaf families took the time to bring me to their houses, to let me peak into their daily lives and share a cup of tea. I watched the sun rise while seated on a wooden bench outside the kitchen, a fire burning to cook the day’s rice. I visited the school of their children and sorted fragrant cloves with the women under a tarp in the early morning sun. It was a short and sweet visit, one pleasant enough for me to hold it in my memory as an idealistic community where the Deaf were included and respected.

One of my most memorable moments from the village was when we shared a juicy red watermelon on the living room floor. I was sitting there with six deaf people from three generations. They were telling me about an upcoming Hindu festival in October and how I should stay for it. One girl told me, “We will all go the beach and take pictures together with your camera!” In a moment of silence, we all glanced up at the television. The woman next to me asked me, “do you understand that?” I said that I did not, and they laughed for they did not understand it either.
There is no need for us to remain apart, separated. We all have our own abilities and disabilities. Being deaf is only a disability because most people can hear. When a hearing person is placed amidst a group of signing Deaf people and their eyes fail to understand the words dancing in the air, they become disabled. Disability is a social construct, and if such differences would become widespread, we would eventually adjust and emerge as a more accommodating and accepting society than what we are today. And so it is, in the hills of northern Bali there is a small unassuming village that we all have a lot to learn from.

Adieu, Ma’am Ellen Castillo…

Mural for Ma'am Ellen
To our beloved Ma’am Ellen:
As one of the outstanding pillars of Filipino Deaf Education,
we greatly salute you for all the wonderful works and passion you have
shared with us. You have truly inspired us to serve the Filipino Deaf.
We would surely miss you. But we are also contented believing
that you are now together with our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ!
You will always be remembered in our hearts! 🙂
from MCCID College of Technology and Esposa Family

Long before the establishments of Deaf Evangelistic Alliance Foundation in Cavinti, Laguna, Philippine Institute for the Deaf Oral School, CAP College for the Deaf, College of St. Benilde and MCCID…  long before the Filipino Sign Language noise and deaf culture recognition… long before the empowerment of the Filipino Deaf…  there is one wonderful woman who took the burden of sharing God’s love and care for the deaf youth…

We greatly salute you Ma’am Ellen Castillo of Bible Institute for the Deaf. You will surely be missed.

 

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