By Dusty Potter
Due to the hard work and compassion of CAES founder, Jose Montilla, there are now four centers for the deaf in different areas of the Dominican Republic, all of which have a teacher and meet wherever they can. CAES serves a total of 250 deaf students, and many more alumni.
CAES has now been running for 18 years. The school teaches lip reading as well as Sign Language. (They have just developed a Dominican Sign-language which matches the culture and country where these students will live the rest of their lives). It is one of the only schools in the Dominican Republic that teaches both. The two main private schools in Santo Domingo teach one or the other. The institute also teaches reading, writing, basic arithmetic, and trade skills. With the addition of the hearing instruments we were able to provide, many will also be able to fully rejoin the hearing world.
Their technical school has four rooms. The first is where they teach the students basic maid service skills so that they might obtain a job in the local hotels and resorts. The second room is a computer class where students learn basic and advanced computer skills. The local Dominican technical university has a partnership with the school and students that complete the program leave with a certified computer technical degree. The third room is the beauty school where students learn the basics of being a beautician. The last room is the massage school. Here students learn massage therapy skills so that they might be able to get jobs at the resorts. Each of these rooms gives students skills to do more than just survive. These rooms give deaf children and adults opportunities to live. Out of the other schools in the Dominican Republic they have the highest success rate of deaf graduates finding jobs.
The school also has a program that provides cows to adult alumni of the school. The cow’s milk helps give nutrition to the adult and their family. They are required to give the first calf away to another graduate. After this they then are free to use the cow however they see fit. Many decide to continue breeding and develop a side income from selling calves.
Jose also shared with us the struggles that people with disabilities face daily from families, the local communities, and their government. When you go to a family of a disabled child and ask after them, many of the parents will not recognize their name. After persistent questions, the parent will recognize that you are talking about their “crazy one”. Having a child with disabilities in the Dominican Republic is considered by the culture to be disgraceful. Many wealthy families will send their children to special schools where their maidservants will bring them food and things they need. But they won’t see them for months on end.
It is our plan to make this project self-sustaining. We are in the process of setting up a full time ear mold lab at the facility, which will create jobs for some of the students at the school, and the revenue from it will provide additional income to purchase more hearing instruments for the students. As there is no ear mold facility in the Dominican Republic, local audiologists are paying much more for ear molds than necessary, and shipping delays are extremely inconvenient.
It was truly an exciting time, a rewarding experience, and a huge amount of food for the soul. I can’t wait to go back.