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For their capstone project, the 16 students in Dr. Cristina Berdichevsky’s GSR 300: “Deaf Education in Cameroon” did not only raise funds or promote awareness; they organized an entire conference on deaf education in a country that has traditionally ignored it. When it came to fundraising, the student exceeded their goal by more than twofold.
The students began by studying readings and personal stories depicting the situation in the central west African nation. Next, they began to put their knowledge into action. They made plans for fundraising and information-sharing on behalf of the Buea School for the Deaf (BSD) in the Southwest Region of Cameroon, which was founded by Gallaudet alumni Aloysius and Margaret Bibum. The students set out with a fundraising goal of $500. Le Toudjida Allara and his fellow students Daniel DiDonna, Serge Okogo, and Elizabeth Steyer began inviting deaf Cameroonians and other presenters to the conference. They also reached out to embassies in Washington, D.C., appealing to representatives who might benefit from the information to be shared.
“In Cameroon, the government does not support deaf education,” explained Allara, a government and international studies major. BSD relies on private funding and in-kind donations to serve the 102 students in its elementary and secondary programs. “I wanted to work with friends of BSD and make it successful for that school,” he said.
The GSR 300 students collaborated with students from Dr. Jan Hafer’s GSR 241 class, which also completed a service-learning project in support of the school, and two graduate students in Dr. Martha Sheridan’s “Macro Practice” course who created partnerships between American schools and BSD. The capstone students also worked closely with board members of the organization Friends of the Buea School for the Deaf (FoBSD).
The semester of research and advocacy culminated on the evening of December 2, when the four-hour conference was convened on the Gallaudet campus.
Provost Stephen Weiner kicked off the evening event, which was held in the atrium of the James Lee Sorenson Language and Communication Center. Business Department Chair Emilia Chukwuma was the next to make remarks. The keynote speaker was Julius Wamey of the Information Solutions Group at the World Bank who presented about perceptions of disability and disability policy in Cameroon.
To provide a backdrop of the deaf experience in the country, the class presented a panel of three Cameroonian students and one American student who had been learning about the challenges and areas of growth for deaf education. The GSR 241 students added their perspectives based on their own research.
The students who worked with the FoBSD board members were “bright, informed, and motivated,” said Teresa Arcari, a former Gallaudet social work professor who serves as president of the board of FoBSD. “Their fundraising, some of which will continue during spring semester, makes an important contribution to BSD.”
Conference participants had a chance to see and taste Cameroonian culture with a spread of traditional foods that Allara brought from an African restaurant in Silver Spring, Md., as part of the program’s “Culinary Pause for a Good Cause.”
Dr. Berdichevsky estimated a total of 50 participants and the students raised $200 from food sales, bringing the semester total to $1,000; twice the initial goal. The funds will help pay BSD teachers’ salaries.
Collectively, the students involved in the conference planning had held leadership roles in the Student Body Government, the men’s soccer and swim teams, and the New Student Orientation program. Participating in the planning process gave them even more valuable experience. Allara said he can bring up his involvement when he applies for jobs, internships, or graduate school in international studies, for example. But the greatest benefit, he said, was sharing messages about BSD with a wider audience.
“People can share their ideas to help BSD, maybe offering their skills to help,” said Allara. “My hope is that people can help to locate resources through networking.”
BSD co-founder Aloysius Bibum welcomed the students’ contributions. “Margaret and I regard this excellent work with high esteem and awe,” he said. “Dr. Berdichevsky has given her students a head start in international development and cooperation, which I am sure they will very much appreciate in years ahead. Thank you all from our hearts.”
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