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Talking about sex by signs

July 17, 2007
Students of Xa Dan School.

VietNamNet Bridge – For the first time since the school for hearing-impaired children was built in Vietnam in 1975, a set of signs about reproductive health is being compiled by the World Population Fund and is scheduled to be put into use in early 2008.


In the sign language vocabulary for Vietnamese hearing-impaired people, there are no signs related to the development of psycho-physiology and reproductive health. Therefore, when hearing-impaired children enter marriageable age, they face hindrances in understanding their bodies and reproductive health. The compilation of the above set of signs is hoped will help solve this problem.


Do Ngoc Van, a teacher at the Hanoi-based Xa Dan Secondary School for Hearing-impaired Children, remembered one of her schoolgirls, who was the victim of sexual abuse.


When she reached puberty, this schoolgirl, named N, was never explained to by anybody about the great changes in her body. N naturally made friends with any boy she by chance became acquainted and consequently, she got pregnant and had to quit school.


“When girls have their periods for the first time, they are very afraid but they don’t know how to tell us about it because there is no sign for hearing-impaired people to express it. To tell others about this phenomenon, they have to express it very complicatedly, such as ‘I have colic and bleeding…”, said teacher Ha Thi Dau of the Xa Dan Secondary School for Hearing-impaired Children.


According to teacher Dau, in her class, some students begin to like each other. A schoolboy named Hieu, 13, writes love letters to his girlfriend. He also wrote a letter to express his affection to his teacher but he didn’t know how to express the feelings of a student for a female teacher, only of a lover for a lover.


To provide knowledge on productive health, how to protect themselves, to take care themselves and to express their affections for hearing-impaired children, the United Nations Population Fund and the Xa Dan Secondary School for Hearing-impaired Children have joined hands to develop the scheme on teaching reproductive health and sex by sign language.


This project won a prize at the International Development Fair in the US and has been given $185,000 from the World Bank (WB).


Pham Hong Hanh, project manager, said that members of this project had referred to sign language on reproductive health and sex. They are now researching the sign language dictionary of the US and the Netherlands to facilitate the compilation of the signs for Vietnamese hearing-impaired children. They haven’t determined the number of words this new set of signs will contain yet but they plan to put it into use in early 2008.


Under this project, a circular on living skills and reproductive health for lecturers and parents of hearing-impaired students and a handbook on reproductive health for disabled young people will be issued.


After those documents are completed, the project will open a consulting office at Xa Dan School to answer all questions on sex and reproductive health for students.


This model will be implemented on a trial basis for two years. If it is successful, we will expand it to serve other disabled people,” said Ms Hanh.


According to the latest statistics of the Committee for Vietnamese Disabled People, 9.33% of the population is hearing impaired. The number of people who are able to make contact with hearing-impaired children is small. Meanwhile, the sign language lexicon is not unified among regions and teachers.


The number of words for hearing-impaired people in Vietnam that are considered standard is only 2,000, and they are very simple, such as boy, girl. There are no words about generative organs, changes in psycho-physiology or pregnancy.


Xa Dan School currently has 500 students, including 200 hearing-impaired children. Education for disabled children in Vietnam is very low. More than one-third of disabled children from 6-17 years old have never gone to school and one-sixth of them quit school.


Two of the four major reasons are the lack of educational programmes for disabled children and those children’s lack of self-confidence in accessing information.


(Source: Tien Phong)


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