Starla Watson of Guelph plans to establish a centre for the deaf in the Philippines in the coming months.
Rob O’Flanagan/Mercury staff GUELP
On her first foray into humanitarian service in the Philippines, Starla Watson was naturally attuned to the needs of the deaf.
Raised by a deaf mother, and communicating effortlessly over the years in sign language and through lip reading, the Guelph woman had an instant empathy for the hearing impaired people she met in the city of Solano, in the province of Nueva Vizcaya, while doing a two-year stint of service at Noah’s Ark Home for Children.
When she learned impoverished hearing impaired people in the region have no access to public services, she found a mission.
“It’s something that’s been close to my heart for obvious reasons, having a mom that’s deaf and growing up surrounded by deaf people,” she said. “It has always been a passion of mine to help the deaf community.”
For two months, Watson, 30, has been raising funds to establish a centre for the many deaf people in Solano, a place where they can learn sign language and receive other help. She’s about half way to her $50,000 goal and hopes to return to the Philippines before the end of the year. The effort is under the auspices of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.
“I went to the Philippines and saw the poverty that the deaf are often living in, and just the lack of communication for them, because they have no way to communicate even among their families,” said Watson over the weekend, during a fundraising event for her cause at the Parkview Church on Speedvale Avenue. “It just broke my heart.”
“My mom is deaf so I am fluent in sign language and comfortable in that culture,” she added. “I started exploring the options of starting a deaf ministry in the Philippines, and so now I am.”
Noah’s Ark was founded by Guelph’s Linda Veldhuizen in 1989, and is based on the principle of taking care of a child’s physical needs before addressing their spiritual and educational needs. Watson spent two years serving at the home, and returned home in late August of this year. She sees the project for the deaf as a long-term commitment to the Philippines.
The effort is receiving some ongoing financial support from Parkview Church of Guelph and others in Guelph. Watson has held scrapbooking workshops as fundraising events, and is giving sign language training, putting the proceeds towards the effort.
“When I was there I met some deaf people and began to realize the big need,” she said. “There is nobody in the whole province where I’m going that offers any kind of service for the deaf community. There is a huge need.”
The deaf, she added, need sign language training, interpretation services, life skills, and advocacy. Sign language lessons, she said, are too expensive for most in the Philippines to afford. There also needs to be greater public awareness in that country that the deaf are just as capable as the hearing. Her plan is to open a community centre.
“It’s not like Canada, where we have services in place and government that provides care,” she said. “My heart just broke when I was there.”
One evening during a church service in Solano, Watson agreed to translate a deaf man’s sign language into English in front of the congregation. The experience moved her deeply. Others present remarked that up until that moment they had never known what the man thought or felt, because they had never been able to talk to him.
“I definitely feel that I am serving people and serving God by doing this,” Watson said. “I’m passionate about deaf people and I’m passionate that they have the same opportunities as hearing people, not only in a practical sense, but in knowing God.”
Anyone wanting more information and wishing to contribute to Watson’s effort can call 519-993-0251, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.