A Monolingual Experience at Escuelita
It’s an amazing experience to volunteer at Escuelita – Playa Del Carmen’s school for children and adults with disabilities – with little control of Spanish. The beautiful students and staff ensure a meaningful impression is made upon every visitor and volunteer, for me, so far, this has concerned communication and the perception of capability.
There is a popular analogy of a hearing man who walks into a room full of deaf people communicating in sign language, finding that his means of communication, though considered ‘normal’, are inefficient, he is forced to ask the question ‘who is really disabled?’. I’ve known this story for some time, having been told it by a student with Cerebral Palsy back in Australia, however I’ve never been so literally put in a position to empathise with the protagonist.
Comparable with this allegory, whilst I might move my arms and legs and process my surroundings in a fashion that is considered ‘normal’, this hardly aligns normality with capability or adeptness if I can’t understand or follow instructions. The GVI project, for me, has highlighted the significance of context and perspective in determining the distinction between ‘normalcy’ and ‘disability’. This observation feels especially poignant when working with non-verbal students – something I’ve come to relate to when travelling about Playa on a minimal vocabulary.
Fortunately, GVI’s Spanish lessons and our immersion in the language have relieved some of the initial miscommunication, although I still consider this to have been a positive and impactful experience.
Having said that, Escuelita’s students and staff are incredibly accommodating and make every effort to make volunteers feel welcome and valued. I’m certain this is only the first of many resonant moments volunteering with GVI.
Outside of the projects, I’ve been lucky enough to bunk up with 7 other amazing volunteers and staff so far – all from different corners of the world. Living at the GVI house is living with friends who are constantly inspiring and challenging you. I’m so grateful for all the memories I’ve made and the people I’ve met during my stay so far and I can’t wait to see what’s to come!
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