By: Juilee Shivalkar and Johnna Gadomski
From navigating a whole new culture and starting a life in a foreign country, there are many challenges that go along with being a new American. But what if you had to face these challenges without the ability to hear?
That is exactly what Marwan has done. Deaf since his birth in Syria, Marwan initially struggled to communicate with people in the United States.
“When he first came, we could only communicate through this,” says Nathan, Marwan’s American Sign Language (ASL) tutor, as he points to a book full of illustrations of everyday scenes. “Now I can understand him.”
One of the keys to Marwan’s progress is his wonderful team, including Page Love, Nathan, Rebecca, Araz, Hassan, and St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church. Working with staff from New American Pathways, a group of dedicated volunteers have set up Marwan with the tools needed to succeed.
“I thought it was two hours a week of English,” Page Love laughs when I ask how she first became involved with Marwan’s American Sign Language (ASL) tutoring. Page is a volunteer with St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church and Marwan’s sponsor here in Georgia. She has grown close with his family over the past few months. Recently, she even helped throw his daughter a birthday party.
Looking back, however, she realizes that they have come a long way since Marwan first arrived last Thanksgiving. Initially, Page was under the impression that her role would include some English at Home tutoring and helping the family adjust to life in America. However, she quickly realized that was not entirely the case– Marwan was deaf, so instead of an English tutor, he needed an ASL tutor.
Page was put in touch with Nathan’s wife through the church. Nathan, who is affiliated with Helping Hands for the Deaf, agreed to be Marwan’s ASL tutor, and finally, they were set! Or so they thought.
Page began to learn ASL, but Marwan still only knew Arabic and Arabic Sign Language. Unfortunately, neither Page nor Nathan knew either of those languages.
After the first few sessions, it became clear to Page that Marwan’s weekly ASL class with Nathan wasn’t progressing– at all. Luckily, just before the third week of lessons, Page ran into Araz and Rebecca.
“By the third lesson we had made no progress, and I thought well how are we going to get anywhere. Then BOOM there they were,” Page reminisces on their first encounter. “They were in front of the door, and I pushed my way in front of them, thinking no, we have to get through our lesson today! That’s when Araz said that she knew Arabic Sign Language and Rebecca knew some ASL. It was a lot of help.”
“Oh I don’t know” Rebecca interjects, “I had my three kids– that makes it hard to do any teaching”
“Well, I was the babysitter,” Page added with a laugh.
With the help of Rebecca and Araz, Marwan’s lessons finally started. Still, it wasn’t easy; Marwan would communicate with Araz in Arabic sign language. Then, Araz would tell Rebecca in English, and Rebecca would convey the message to Nathan in ASL. Later, Page also learned how to sign, and could help translate as well. In this way, over time, Marwan has learned enough ASL to be able to communicate with Nathan on his own.
As Page Love puts it, “It really does take a team.”