FAWAKA with you(th)

Deaf people are equal to hearing people and deserve the same opportunities

Jonathan Tjien-Fooh, UNV
COVID-19 Advocacy, Adolescents, Education
UNICEF Suriname 2020
07 July 2020

During these challenging times it’s more important than ever that every child has equal access to information and medical services. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the Surinamese government responded by translating relevant information in multiple languages and also having a sign language interpreter present during press conferences. All of UNICEF’s communication material and interventions are also developed as inclusive as possible: multiple translations and using subtitles and sign language interpreters during events and infomercials.

The words ‘social distancing’, ‘COVID-19’ and ‘quarantine’ have become a part of our daily lives, but how has the outbreak of the coronavirus impacted deaf youth in Suriname?

This blog is a follow up to the key findings of the Youth KAP survey aimed at getting the stories behind the data. FAWAKA translates to “How are you doing?” in ‘Sranan Tongo’ (English-based creole language).

In this week’s ‘FAWAKA with You(th)’ we will be featuring Igsan Karijowidjojo (23 years), member of the Surinamese society for the rights of the deaf community (SUDOBE) and Stephanie Waridjan (25 years), Surinamese Sign Language interpreter (in training).

This interview was done in Surinamese Sign Language (through WhatsApp video call), with support of Stephanie, to ensure that Igsan’s ‘Voice’ was truly represented in this blog.

Igsan Karijowidjojo, COVID-19, Adolescent Participation
UNICEF Suriname 2020
Igsan Karijowidjojo

A little bit more about Igsan

One aspect of deaf culture is the use of unique, personal "name signs" as a way to identify someone without fully spelling out their name using sign language. These names often reflect a person's appearance or character and are usually given to you by someone within the deaf community. My name sign is made by moving my index finger horizontally up and down in front of my eyebrow. I was given this name because my friends told me that I frown a lot with my eyebrows.

I was born deaf. My birthplace is Nickerie. I moved to Paramaribo when I had to go to school and look for job opportunities. I graduated from the Kennedy School (the only school for deaf and hearing-impaired children in Suriname) in 2018. Recently, I started working as an Administrative employee at Stichting Staatsziekenfonds (SZF). In my free time I enjoy playing soccer with friends, watching videos online and making vlogs.

Almost two years ago, I started with video editing and making vlogs. At the time I saw so many videos about deaf youth in other countries, but I didn’t see anything in Suriname. I really felt like that was missing in Suriname. Currently, I also make short videos with different words in sign language. I hope hearing people can also learn sign language by watching my videos. Some hearing people respond to my videos that they would love to learn more about sign language. I refer them to Mrs. Rosita, so they can stay up to date when another sign language course starts.

Dealing with COVID-19

How did I feel when the first active COVID-19 case was reported in Suriname?

I had a very neutral feeling. It didn’t really matter that much to me, the only big difference in my life is that we have to put on face masks and disinfect or wash our hands frequently during work. I also go straight to work and back home.  

I do watch more videos online, compared to before and I can’t meet up with friends, however we still manage to stay in contact by video calling each other. Before the coronavirus I used to play soccer with my friends every Saturday, currently it’s not possible anymore; we were also supposed to go to Guyana for a soccer tournament but due to the coronavirus this was cancelled.  

The deaf community and access of information

I think that it’s really nice that there are sign language interpreters during the COVID-19 press conferences. Before the coronavirus, we didn’t really see that. It would be great if they could also do the same for the local news. Sign language is the easiest language to understand for deaf people. When I see too much text, it’s difficult to understand. For example, if I need to read a document and there is a lot of text, I’ll make a picture of it and send it to one of the sign language interpreters to translate it for me in sign language; usually we do it through WhatsApp video call.

Stephanie complemented Igsan’s statement: “I recently talked with a few people from the deaf community and they really enjoy the fact that they can watch the COVID-19 press conferences and understand it independently. It would be great if more people would do this for other important events or even during the local news. If it’s not possible to have a sign language interpreter present at least add subtitles to the videos. I know that it is a challenge, we currently only have two official sign language interpreters in the entire country. It would be amazing if we could have an official Surinamese Sign Language interpreter’s education system in Suriname and ‘being an interpreter’ is recognized as an official service, so more deaf people have equal access to all information and services”.

Sign Langauge, COVID-19, Stephanie, Suriname
UNICEF Suriname 2020

Sign language is a real language. Deaf people like it when you communicate or at least make the effort to communicate with them. Even if it’s not perfect, they appreciate the effort!

Stephanie Waridjan

My dream for deaf youth in Suriname

We currently have a deaf comedy group called ‘The Smiley Deaf’ and we make and post videos on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. It would be great if we could expand this in the future and even organize more theatre activities or workshops for the deaf community. I also want to continue making videos, so more hearing people can learn sign language. Feeling like a community and networking is important for deaf youth. One of our dreams is to have our own club house so we can learn, do sport activities, play games with each other and organize events together.

Stephanie also added: “Sign language is a real language. Deaf people are equal to hearing people. They are really smart; they just don’t get the same opportunities as us. I learn so much from them every day. If hearing people can learn sign language, even if it is just the basic stuff…it’s a start! Deaf people like it when you communicate or at least make the effort to communicate with them. Even if it’s not perfect, they appreciate the effort”

Igsan’s message for youth in Suriname

Stay home as much as possible. But don’t isolate yourself or else you might get frustrated or depressed. It is important to stay in close contact with your friends and family; they are just a phone call or video call away. When you communicate with others and maintain social relationships, you’ll feel happier.

Sign Langauge, COVID-19, Igsan, Suriname
UNICEF Suriname 2020
Igsan signing "I love you" in Surinamese and International sign language
Igsan Karijowidjojo, COVID-19, Adolescent Participation, Wiren Premiere
UNICEF Suriname 2020
Igsan at Wiren Premiere

We would like to thank Stephanie for functioning as a sign language interpreter during this interview. Through her work she functions as a bridge to the hearing and deaf community and continues to advocate for equal rights for the deaf community in Suriname.

Sign Langauge, COVID-19, Stephanie, Suriname, Wiren Premiere
UNICEF Suriname 2020
Stephanie at Wiren Premiere