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Marshall graduate students help deaf students at Jamaican school

Jun. 26, 2011 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Six graduate students in Marshall University's Communications Disorders program spent two weeks working at a deaf school and orphanage in Jamaica during the May intercession.

The students earned clinical hours toward their degree, but all said they would return for nothing just to be able to help another day.

"We already agreed before we came home that we're going back," said a teary-eyed Jenna Rollins, who joined fellow students Danielle Thorne, Allison Graham, Jessica McKee, Sarah Mease and Ernay Goble, on the trip.

Assistant Professor Leann Fortner, who also went on the trip, said a 2010 graduate brought the Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf to their attention earlier this year. Members of the graduate's church had been to Montego Bay in Jamaica helping build houses around the school, and she relayed to Fortner how much help the graduate students could be.

But there were hurdles. While Jamaicans speak English, the students at the Caribbean Centre haven't spoken at all, Fortner said. Those students, who range from 5 year to 22 years old, rely strictly on sign language, something the Marshall students only have had one semester of.

At Marshall, they work in Luke Lee Language, Listening, and Learning Lab and the Scottish Rite Childhood Speech and Language Center, but none of the children are completely deaf and all have some ability to communicate.

"We don't have a lot of experience with the deaf culture," said Graham, a Barboursville native.

Fortner said Jamaica also lacks in technology and training, and noted that Marshall has more speech pathologists that the entire island.

The goal of the trip was to work with the students to use their voices to say their names and the names of their relatives. Goble said they literally put the students' hands on her beck to feel the vibrations of words and letters.

"We got into this field to help people," said Mease, a Huntington native. "Being there and seeing changes through my help was amazing. Them saying 'I love you, mom' for the first time was very heart warming."

Thorne said she had been on mission trips before but never fell in love with a place the way she did in Montego Bay -- and not the Montego Bay that people book their all-inclusive vacations to.

Fortner and the students said they want this to become an annual trip to conduct clinical work. A partnership would be easy to develop, as the home office is located in Lewisburg, W.Va.

Marc White, president of the Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf, said an partnership is developing and the outcome is the children in Jamaica are helped immensly.

"The difference between a deaf graduate and one who can use their voice is the difference between getting a real job and something not so desirable," White said. "There is a big stigma against deafness in Jamaica."

The organization operates three schools in Jamaica, and all are residential facilities that allow them to bring in rural deaf children.

As with any international effort, there are costs. The Marshall students had to pay about $2,500 in expenses, and that did not include lodging. They stayed at the deaf school with the children.

Fortner said they held a few fundraisers but hope that with time, they can do more to get students back there next year.

Those interested in sponsoring a Marshall graduate student to attend can call the Department of Communication Disorders at 304-696-3640 or contact Fortner at leann.fortner@marshall.edu.

For those who are interested in learning more about the Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf or child sponsorship can do so by visiting www.cccdjamacia.com. Monthly sponsorship levels are $7 for high school and college students or $32 or $257.

"My church group was looking for somewhere new to go, and I want to go back and work with this culture," Graham said.