A Home, a School, a Family

Photos courtesy of the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem

Holy Land Institute for the Deaf teaches students self-sufficiency.

By Neva Rae Fox

For more than 50 years, the Holy Land Institute for the Deaf (HLID) has taught and guided children and young adults dealing with deafness or hearing challenges, without regard to religion or background. Its tree-lined, sunny campus, in the Kingdom of Jordan, is a key institution of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and a beneficiary of the Episcopal Church’s Good Friday Offering.

“The institute is a boarding school for deaf students and deaf-blind students,” said the Rev. Wadie N. Far, who served as HLID’s chaplain for three years and is now vicar of the Arabic-speaking congregation at St. George’s Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem. “It’s the only one of its kind in Jordan. It offers and provides deaf students a chance for school training and vocational training.”

Ages among the 100-plus students range from 3 to 24. The students, mostly Christians and Muslims, are from different countries: Jordan, Israel, Palestine, and Lebanon.

“HLID offers a remarkable, loving, safe haven for these most vulnerable of children, many of whom are very poor,” said Heidi Shott, communications director for American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem.

“You must have another language to serve the deaf,” said the Ven. Luay Haddad, HLID’s director. “You must speak the language of love.”

Founded in 1964 in Salt, Jordan, and opened by the late King Hussein, HLID began with 32 children and four teachers. The institute added vocational training by 1980. HLID celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 2014.

The criteria for school admittance focus on a key area. “We don’t look at citizenship, financial resources, religious affiliation,” Far said. “We look at Can we help this student?” If a child can’t be assisted by the school, such as a student who is deaf and autistic, “We can point them to someone who can help,” he said.

The curriculum is thorough. A comprehensive basic academic program (math, history) for high school students readies them for mandatory Jordanian secondary exams. Those areas are coupled with Arabic sign language and speech therapy. Added to that is extensive vocational training, designed to prepare students for self-sufficiency in adulthood: traditional crafts like mosaic-making, cooking and restaurant skills, metalworking, and sewing.

Far stressed the legacy and importance of the institute. “It is really important, because when a child graduates from school, some have gone off for more education. Others can go and get a job because of their training. They are productive members of society.”

The teachers, Far said, “are old and young, Christian and Muslims, all walks of life, Jordanians and those from other countries. Some are deaf, some are graduates of the school, others are called to this ministry.”

Far believes the teachers are special. “It takes a lot. If you look at it as a job, it can be overwhelming. If you look at it as a ministry, it is rewarding.”

Fadileh al Hiary, deputy head of school and head of the kindergarten department, understands her students because she was once one of them.

“When I first came to kindergarten, I wasn’t able to understand what the teacher was telling us — what the numbers were or my name or anything,” she said. “But then it was like my eyes opened, with God’s grace. Even though I was older, I was able to quickly catch up with the other students.”

She also serves as a member of the committee that awards certificates for legal translators of the Jordanian Supreme Council for the Disabled.

Asma Masadeh, head of the deaf-blind section and a member of the Jordanian Supreme Council for the Disabled, is another former student.

“Attending this school gave me a lot of self-confidence to work with students,” Masade said. “As a student at HLID, I was required to work in a lot of departments: the boarding house, with the deaf-blind students, in the vocational training. Those opportunities to work across the school departments helped to increase my confidence in myself and my abilities.

“In Jordan, HLID is the only school for deaf-blind students. If we don’t teach deaf-blind students, their parents cannot help them, and they will sit in their rooms without learning anything. If HLID were not here to support them, they would suffer a great loss.”

HLID offers more than reading, writing, and arithmetic.

“The ministry is larger than the deaf programs,” Far said. “They have great outreach programs. They work with people in the Jordan Valley, providing people with disabilities with care they need, or helping people with low incomes. There are outreach programs with refugees.”

“One particularly lovely part of the boarding program at HLID is that every student is required to do a chore: taking part in the weekly cleaning of campus involves all students,” Shott said. “Older students may opt for their chore to assist the youngest students with daily activities, or it might be assisting one of the deaf-blind students of any age with navigating the campus, mealtimes, bedtime.”

HLID offers to teach sign language to parents and family.

“We are entrusted with this mission in the Holy Land — to be a beacon of hope, love, and peace in this world,” said the Most Rev. Dr. Hosam Elias Naoum, Archbishop of Jerusalem and dean of St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem. “We do this ministry not only for ourselves, but we do this on behalf of every single Christian. I trust not only that the Lord is with us, but I take comfort also that we have wonderful friends surrounding the diocese with so much love, affection, and support.”

“If HLID were not here, deaf students would not be able to achieve anything,” al Hiary said. “It would be downhill from now on. We’d go back to what we had before — being in the streets and not knowing anything, being illiterate. I might have been illiterate if HLID had not been here for me.”

Metal shop teacher Hatem al Wishah, a graduate of HLID who returned after serving in the army, described the importance of an HLID education and experience.

“If the school was not here, our students would be on the streets,” he said. “They would not be able to learn or to be as strong as they are now. They are learning how to work in the community and to be a part of the community. They can earn their own money and be productive people in the community.”

“The Holy Land Institute for the Deaf is a home, it’s a school, it’s a family,” Far said. “If the HLID was not there, the children would be on the streets.”

Three videos offer a glimpse of the school:


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