Returned Volunteer Tim Martin discusses his links to the Jordanian Holy Land Institute for the Deaf where he first spent time as a Project Trust Volunteer in 1979. Nearly 40 years later Tim is a regular visitor to the Institute and now supports its work from the UK. Below is a fascinating and moving account of Tim’s time in Jordan as a volunteer, his return to the institute and the changes he has witnessed in the intervening years.
In 1979 I stepped hot-foot (literally) from the ship which had brought me to Jordan, onto the sun-baked wharf at Aqaba to start my year volunteering with Project Trust at the Holy Land Institute for the Deaf; a small school for deaf children in the predominantly Muslim town of Salt up in the hills to the north of the country. This Christian school had been founded by the bishop of Jerusalem in 1964 to provide an education and boarding facility for a fortunate few of the many deaf children. The majority of the children were Muslims and a good few were from families who had earlier fled their homes in Palestine or Gaza.
Overlooking the bustling centre of Salt
I was the second PT volunteer at the school but had no hand-over or information passed to me from my predecessor who flew home while I enjoyed my leisurely sail through the Mediterranean, so had no idea what to expect. I found nearly 100 deaf children aged between four and fourteen; five teachers, a handful of domestic staff and three Dutch missionaries who ran the school. My year involved learning sign-language and some Arabic, repairing the fabric of the school (housed in a former hospital to which a ragged collection prefabs had been added) and generally doing everything that couldn’t, or wouldn’t, be done by the teachers. I managed to fit in a few trips to Syria, Israel and a holiday in Egypt before very reluctantly returning home.
Although I revisited briefly in 1981 it was to be 35 years before I was to return to the Institute.
Out of the blue eight years ago another former PT volunteer forwarded me an email from the Dutch director of the Institute and through that met up with a group of “Friends of the Institute” who had set up a charity some years before with the aim of raising funds for the running of the school. Similar charities were already in existence in Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands and I soon became a trustee in the UK and took on the role of treasurer and distributer of the regular UK newsletters. In 2014 we agreed to hold a meeting at the Institute in Jordan of all the societies and charities to mark its 50th anniversary – here was my excuse to revisit and see first-hand how things had improved. Since then I have been back four times to see the changes and what a contrast from the early days!
Holy Land Institute for the Deaf
Although still located on the same site on a hill overlooking the bustling town, the school and its boarding houses and accommodation have grown out of all proportion with single and two-storey blocks now replaced with wonderful new structures; some five stories high – there’s even a lift. There are roughly the same number of children but now their numbers include 13 deafblind students – all of whom require one-to-one support. It’s both fascinating and quite moving to see them in the learning environment. Children up to the age of 18 now follow the same curriculum as the rest of the country and many have graduated and come back to work as teachers themselves.
The vocational training unit, which was focussed on car maintenance in my time, now has large workshops and wins contracts for making and repairing doors and windows. The boys make wooden toys and maintain equipment in the school. The girls weave, sew, make mosaics and many other gifts for sale. (Jordan is still a very male dominated society – nothing much has changed there!) There are no longer any Europeans employed by the Institute and sadly no longer any volunteers, for the government now demands JD1000 for a permit and allows only a maximum of three month’s stay.
The influence of the school has grown enormously within Jordan and throughout the Middle East generally. They now also run two facilities located down in the Jordan Valley which provide outreach services and vocational training for deaf, blind and cognitively impaired children. The refugee camps in Za’atari and Azraq now have units staffed and run by the Institute helping a lamentably small number of refugee children from Syria. Teacher training is undertaken in Iraq, and until recently also Yemen. The school is still funded through personal donations and charities as well as grants from the Anglican church in Jerusalem but now has the support of the Jordanian royal family.
No-where is immune from the tensions of the region. As a Christian run school in a Muslim town and country, there is exposure to political and religious pressure; the new Jordanian director is acutely aware that in the minds of some people the school is a threat or target. Ethics classes have replaced any references to religious teaching; obvious Christian symbols have been removed from the gift shop and the school chapel seems now permanently locked. But despite this the children haven’t changed at all!
If anyone wants any further information I can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
Tim Martin with the town of Salt in the background