Allen Neece, who has written the follow-up post below, served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kenya, Zambia, and Guyana, 2007-2010. He taught for two years at a residential primary school in Kenya, was an advisor to the Zambia National Association of the Deaf in Lusaka, and in Guyana as a Response Volunteer, he worked as a Deaf Education Specialist within the Ministry of Education. He subsequently worked with Voluntary Services Overseas from 2011-2012 as a capacity advisor with the Rwanda National Union of the Deaf in Kigali. He hasn’t earned a salary since 2007.
Allen Neece at Gallaudet University by his picture in the Peace Corps exhibit
Here’s some intelligence I can share, from what I know of the particular situation in Guyana.
The Deaf Association of Guyana (DAG) (formerly known as Deaf In Guyana, DIG) is run by an elderly white Dutch woman who can barely sign herself. My observations and interactions with her in 2011 left me with the distinct impression that DIG/DAG was nothing more than an after school social club for Deaf youth in Georgetown. Her intentions are certainly noble, she has devoted much of her time and energy to providing opportunities for Deaf youth but they largely stem to issues pertaining to leisure and recreation.
Deaf education in Georgetown/Guyana makes Kenya seem positively stratospheric by comparison. The majority of Deaf people in Guyana are essentially illiterate in both English and sign language. Consequently, they have no ability to organize, network, and advocate effectively. I think DIG/DAG was started to address this, with the ostensible goal of nurturing grassroots advocacy.
Your reference to the TOR principles by Harris, et al., is spot on. This hasn’t happened in this particular issue of DAG requesting an ASL instructor from Peace Corps. If the Deaf community was truly involved in this request, I find it preposterous they would have requested an ASL instructor. I met Deaf Guyanese who were clearly cognizant of the need for self-determination and empowerment in addressing the need for research into the native sign languages of Guyana (there seem to be regional dialects as well, oriented by specific towns). They may not have been afforded formal education but they’re certainly capable of engaging in a dialectical process concerning ASL and GSL.
There are no professional sign language interpreters in Guyana. However, there is a hearing couple who runs an evangelical church in Georgetown. The pastor is quite skilled in ASL and often works as a SLI in Georgetown for meetings. Although he has his own motives pertaining evangelicalism of the Deaf community, he’s been around long enough to know that there are several nascent strains of GSL percolating around the country and he wholeheartedly supports the need for further awareness and research. When participating in meetings concerning special education issues, he and I both stressed the need for further research on GSL. Unfortunately, like Kenya, Deaf education doesn’t register on the radar at the MOE and reforms occur glacially, if at all. I suggested that if it wasn’t feasible to bring SL linguists from the States, they could still find capable linguists from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), perhaps such as the University of the West Indies in Kingston.
I was invited to Georgetown to ostensibly train teachers in Deaf ed at the Cyril Potter of Education but for a number of reasons, it didn’t happen. I specifically told Peace Corps Guyana that unless it could be guaranteed that a future Response volunteer could teach at the college, it would be unwise to replace me with a new volunteer. They didn’t listen and to my irritation, they continued for another year to recruit a new volunteer before they finally dropped it.
This ASL instructor assignment is not the first time DAG has requested a volunteer. A RPCV from Deaf Ed Kenya was there 2012-2013 and she had issues, too, with DAG and ended up having to modify her assignment so she could stay on in another capacity. I’m trying to track her down and glean more intelligence.
My take is that there simply needs to be better vetting and evaluation of requests for Volunteers from host country nationals by PC posts, both overseas and in D.C., as well as a need for better awareness of issues pertaining to disability and language. I get the feeling that PC Response in Guyana may just be filling up empty slots to justify funding purposes without adequately scrutinizing the true rationale for placements.