"My name is Ali. Can you help me find a job?" was the question posed by the bespectacled, somewhat insecure young, deaf man in 1999 when he walked into FESF's first Deaf Reach Training Center in Saddar, Karachi. Recognizing his skills and abilities, he was immediately hired as one of Deaf Reach's first teachers.
Fast forward to 2012, and "Sir" Ali can be found in his hometown of Sukkur, the first and only deaf principal of a School for the Deaf in Pakistan. Ali is responsible for the care, education and welfare of more than 350 deaf students who attend the school daily. Ali was also instrumental in starting a branch of Deaf Reach in Hyderabad and has also overseen the opening of a new branch in Nawabshah, making it possible for more than 1,000 children to get an education.
However, it hasn't always been smooth sailing. Ali says, "My entire early education was a struggle and challenge. When I was growing up, there was no concept of deaf schools or deaf education. I went to a hearing school, and had to teach myself. " Ali's commitment to improving education for the Deaf is evident from a statement recently made by one of his students, "I went to many computer schools but I could never learn much. I could never understand the teachers. But Mr. Ali makes it so easy for me to understand!"
Ali's wife is also deaf and works as a teacher with Deaf Reach. Ali, his wife, and their 3 beautiful children serve as a vivid illustration of how one empowered life can cause a ripple effect and become a catalyst for change in our society. Ali's success is proof that commitment, passion and a never-say-die attitude truly can make a difference.
The only deaf child in his family, Ashraf Mushtaq was very shy and withdrawn as a child. He achieved good grades in school, but was somewhat of a 'loner' and kept to himself. As a young adult, he enrolled in Deaf Reach Training Program and did exceptionally well, graduating at the top of his class –while still maintaining a rather shy demeanor.
All that changed however, when Ashraf was offered a teaching position in Deaf Reach. He has made a truly remarkable transformation from a reserved, withdrawn personality into the confident and focused person he is now. In an environment where everyone speaks his language, Ashraf has shed his inhibitions and is now making an exceptionally positive contribution to the lives of his students and co-workers.
His teaching proficiency in the classroom was recognized and rewarded when he was given one of two, fully-sponsored openings to attend a six-week teacher training course at a prestigious school for the Deaf in Jordan. It was Ashraf's first time flying, as well as travelling out of Pakistan. In addition to his teaching position, Ashraf is also in charge of Deaf Reach's "Job Placement Program", assisting young deaf adults in finding gainful employment.
Ashraf is loved and respected by students and teachers alike, and they all benefit from his innovative and inspirational approach to teaching. He concludes, "I am very thankful for all the persons who encouraged me. Sometimes I feel sad when people make fun of me and don't understand me, or when they consider me a useless person in society. They should know that I am playing a very important role, and helping others." Indeed, he has not only transformed his own life, but continues to serve as a role model for the young deaf children he teaches and mentors.
Nadeem, 27, is the eldest child and primary breadwinner of a family of six. Unlike others in similar situations across the country, Nadeem is Deaf, which presents a unique set of challenges. His story is inspirational due to his self-belief and zest for life, which have enabled him to surmount the many challenges he has faced.
Undeterred by circumstances, and the untimely death of his father, he financed himself through college while continuing to support his family. During that time, in order to further strengthen his skills, Nadeem enrolled in an IT & English Training course at Deaf Reach School. He soon discovered that he could make a positive impact on the lives of deaf youth by being a mentor to younger students.
Through Deaf Reach's "Job Placement Program", Nadeem gained employment at a top pharmaceutical company as a medical representative, visiting doctors' offices and clinics to promote new products. Through his hard work and commitment, he proved all the stereotypes wrong and within no time became one of the top sales representatives in the company.
But his passion for teaching never subsided, and he ultimately began working fulltime in Deaf Reach where he now has a leadership role as a head teacher in the Primary Section. "I am very grateful for the chance I've been given to educate and empower other deaf children. I've found my life's work," Nadeem stated. His self-belief and can-do attitude truly show that nothing is impossible!
Nadeem's life was further blessed when he met Zohra, also deaf, who is a former student and now a teacher at Deaf Reach. Happily married and now parents of a young child, today the husband and wife duo work side by side at Deaf Reach to provide opportunities for other Deaf people to achieve a better and brighter future.
It's not hard to spot Riffat in the classroom - she's the one with the large smile on her face, and one of the most enthusiastic and energetic teachers at Deaf Reach School.
Riffat who is deaf herself, is a proud mother of three deaf sons who have been regular students at Deaf Reach School for several years. Before joining FESF, Riffat was struggling to raise her family. Her husband, also deaf, was only able to find part-time work as a tailor. As an educated housewife, Riffat felt frustrated by the limitations placed on her by society because of her perceived 'handicap'. Riffat says, "I was thrilled that my children were receiving a good education, but I felt there was more I wanted to do and to accomplish, in addition to being a mother."
Joining the teaching staff of FESF in January 2010 provided the perfect opportunity for Riffat to achieve both goals. Riffat's household now has a second income, and she is able to spend all day with her children. Her motivation to be a good mother despite her 'handicap' makes her an invaluable teacher in Deaf Reach's Primary section.
Riffat is a wonderful example of someone who has used life's circumstances to achieve success, not only in her personal life but also to have a positive impact on the lives of her many students. She is the perfect role model for the other parents in Deaf Reach and FESF is proud to have her.
"I wish to gain respect and not sympathy," says 14-years old, Yousuf Haider. With beautiful colored eyes and a fair complexion, he appears to be a normal child at first glance. It's when he gets up from his seat to greet you, that you realize that this young boy is deaf.
Unlike many deaf children, Yousuf was fortunate enough to receive basic schooling. His signing style, however, was very difficult to understand by people who weren't a part of his daily routine. After joining Deaf Reach he has been able to communicate effectively with his hard of hearing mother, deaf sister and other students at the school. He goes home with new signs every day and teaches his mother new vocabulary. He has also seen an improvement in his writing and reading skills.
By learning 3 languages, English, Urdu and PSL, he wishes to be less dependent on his hearing family members and friends to communicate with people. "I want people to understand me without the help of an interpreter," he says. He believes that the only difference between him and his hearing friends is that they can hear and he can't. "We are same in every other aspect."
Yousuf loves how supportive his teachers are and is interested in learning more about how the computer works. With the education provided by the Deaf Reach School, Yousuf and his friends aspire to contribute to the world of arts, sciences and humanities. The students at Deaf Reach add up to the 2% of deaf children in Pakistan who attend school. They dream to become the community leaders of tomorrow and promote the right to education of all the deaf children in Pakistan.