NOURISH. INSPIRE. THRIVE.
These are their stories.
HELTON CORINTH'S AMAZING TRANSFORMATION
We remember meeting Helton three years ago (2016) when he was only 6. He wasn't in school during that time. We met him along with other young kids at North Camp where he lives on the end of Ebeye Island (near the landfill). We were waiting nearby for the school bus to pick us up after a long day at work. We didn't realize he was deaf until some other kids tried to indicate that he was. Then we started to notice how much he would rely on his eyes and gestures/pointing to communicate with other kids. We attempted to introduce ourselves to him, but he panicked and ran away from us. We saw him a couple of times after that throughout the year. Eventually, we found where he lives and met his parents. We talked with them and encouraged them to send Helton to the deaf program. The parents said they would try but they usually have a hard time getting him to calm down every time they go out. Helton would get violent every time. He had a hard time not only understanding his parents and what was going on in his home environment, but also trusting anyone. He had no language. He was only 6.
It took us 2 years to build trust with him. We were blessed and so joyful when he started attending the deaf program last semester. Admittedly, it wasn't easy at first. He was the most aggressive and energetic kid we've ever worked with. He would get physical with other kids, not to threaten and hurt them but to prove and protect himself. It took the true pricelessness and value of our time, attention and love to help change his aggressive behavior to one of the sweetest boys we now know. He had improved so much within a year of being in the deaf program. He has been smiling nonstop every time he comes to school. He's starting to remember how to spell his name in sign language now. He has been expressing his needs as well as vivid imagination. We are so proud of his amazing transformation and we feel very fortunate to be able to help him. Now that he has access to education in sign language, he has hope for the future... and this is what EDEC strives for. No deaf child should be left behind in the Marshall Islands.
NEVER TOO LATE
We met Stephanie when she was 19. She’s deaf. She didn’t know sign language when we first met her. She used the sand on the road to trace with a wooden stick to tell her name. She only knew basic gestures. She was born in Ebeye, but around 2006 her and her mom moved to an outer island. She sometimes went to a hearing school. Growing up she spent most of her time doing house chores, weaving coconut leaves, drawing and relying on lip reading and gestures to communicate with her family and friends.
Stephanie and her mom moved back to Ebeye two years ago (2017) because Stephanie’s grandma had passed away. She was very close with her grandma. It was a difficult time in her life, but her life has changed so much for the better ever since we met her and encouraged her to start attending the deaf program last semester. Her mom and the whole family were resistant at first but then they noticed how much Stephanie has instantly improved.
To be honest, I was personally frustrated with her at first due to lack of good manners, but I knew it wasn’t her fault. She didn’t know any better. We had to teach her appropriate ways to approach people and how to respect others in general. As soon as we tried to explain these things to her, she understood and apologized for her behavior immediately. It took me by surprise that she was able to keep up with our expectation on her few first weeks and throughout the school year. She’s now the most improved and pleasant student at EDEC. And the most important thing is she knows how to spell her name in sign language with confidence now. It’s never too late to be what you might have been.
NEW LIFE IN AMERICA FOR FRANKIE AND MIRA
Frankie and Mira Lokeijak have started a new life with extended family members living in Oklahoma, 6,000 miles away from Ebeye Island where their roots are.
All their lives, Frankie and Mira had been living on this overpopulated tiny island surrounded by the vast Pacific Ocean, with little or no access to education, healthy food, safe drinking water or health care services. But the moment they set foot in America, the land of opportunity, everything changed drastically for them.
Words cannot express the whirlwind of thoughts and feelings they've been having as they slowly adapt to this new country with its different language and culture, their new school and all the new faces, not to mention the wealth of services and healthy food options.
Not everyone can relate to or even begin to understand the long journey of these two deaf Marshallese children who are now living with 27+ hearing family members in a house in Oklahoma, where it's crowded, cramped, and probably a little overwhelming for them, yes, but it also comes with immediate access to safe drinking water, a flushing toilet and modern appliances. And we can see in their eyes and their radiant smiles that they are happy to be here.
Because of the outstanding support, dedication and love that the Lojeak family received from the EDEC team, Frankie and Mira's mother, Alsina decided to send them to America to attend the Oklahoma School for the Deaf, where a quality education is being provided in an environment that can accommodate their needs.
The EDEC teachers and kids sorely miss Frankie and Mira, but we feel blessed to see them living a better life and receiving a decent education, which they so truly need and deserve.
This has made it more difficult for people with disabilities to get a job. Albert is breaking the stereotype of a person with a disability who is unable to find and hold down a job. It has been 2 years since he got a job at Triple J supermarket in Ebeye.
Albert has shown everyone that being deaf won't stop him from working and making a living.
His self-confidence and language have blossomed dramatically--and it's beautiful to see--ever since he got that job. He is determined to keep earning a living and supporting his family, and now he is aiming for something even bigger: he's hoping to find a new job opportunity in Hawaii.
LITTLE BOY WITH A BIG DREAM
This little dude is Ronnie Jennop and he is only ten years old. He is deaf and partially blind. He wants to be an actor some day, and you can tell just by looking at his face that there is a burgeoning actor inside of him. He is naturally talented.
Like most deaf kids born and raised in Ebeye, Ronnie lives with his family in a tiny dwelling made of driftwood and scrap metal. His parents and five siblings use homemade signs to communicate with him.
Ronnie loves school and is a gifted student. His language skills have blossomed since he first started at the EDEC program. It wasn't until this year that he started to express his own academic goals. He told his third-year deaf teacher, Tiffany Narciso, that he wants to learn how to read and write in English. It's amazing how quickly he continues to pick things up. Living with almost nothing doesn't get in the way of his learning, or of extending his kindness and happiness toward others.