Not too long ago I was backpacking in Central America, exploring the nomad’s life through three different countries. Having said this, I recall meeting a deaf dude at a cafe in Costa Rica. He expounded to me about a leadership program in Denmark infused with leaders. He said the leadership program consisted of an international group that would visit Ghana, Africa and would learn global deaf politics and so on.
But I wasn’t paying attention to him nor enjoying the conversation, because I thought he was making the story up. A few moments later, he stood by me with a paper displaying the name of the site and told me, “It is no joke.”
Several days later, I had the curiosity to look up the information on the program. The leadership program is known as Frontrunners, an International Deaf Youth Leadership Training Program.
On September 7, 2010, I started the Frontrunners 6 program (Frontrunner’s 6th year) in Denmark under three modules. The group consisted of me (from America) and thirteen other participants from diverse countries. When I first started the program, I was unprepared to deal with unfamiliar, alien sign language: International Sign (IS) Language. It took me a while to get used to the new language although I found it fun to learn. In addition, IS was a gateway tool utilized in assimilating with my team. It became the highlight of my journey—my everyday language to express, understand, and communicate with my peers throughout the course.
What is cool about International Sign language? It is not an official language yet, but events such as the Deaf Olympics and organizations such as the World Federation of the Deaf (and other social groups) have expressed a desire to use International Sign Language. The auxiliary gestural system of IS is derived from different countries’ sign languages and combined like a mixed soup, making the language easier and accessible for diverse audiences to understand. This is why International Sign Language rocks in the Deaf world!
In Module 1, the Frontruners 6 team applied their International Sign Language skills by doing a project in Ghana, Africa for the month of October. The aims were to meet deaf Ghanaians as part of a cultural exchange as well as provide leadership training. We developed a Ghana’s charter along with goals, strategies, and other resources to be able to work, empower, and collaborate with the deaf schools and other peers.
In Ghana, we collaborated closely with the Demolition School for the Deaf in Mampong. A famous leader, Andrew Foster, who graduated from Gallaudet, established the first school there and became the community hero. Upon further inspection and meeting new people, I was stunned to silence to see hundreds of deaf kids playing on the school field. The scene was like “A walk in a park.” It was nearly impossible to recognize their faces since many of them looked alike.
And yet, I have to say that they were among the happiest people on Earth. Anywhere I observed, I was impressed with the Mampong open-spaced living community, where families, friends, and folks come together to socialize and have a good time. I am amazed at the community they have there, for I have never seen such a big community where most people are collectively bonded to one another.
Toward to the end of our journey, it was extremely difficult for us to leave behind what we helped create in Ghana. Most of us had tears in our eyes. The deaf schools and the whole community were the ones who felt grief the worst, because they had never seen international deaf youth from different countries in their homeland. For them, we became their travel experiences. We left a legacy behind which showed them a variation of deaf people and leadership skills to encourage them to be leaders in their community.
The rest of the curricula at Denmark included workshops, lectures based on deaf theories, and two international parties. The international parties, Ghana and Turquoise, were held with the goal of raising funds towards Ghanaian schools and the Frontrunners foundation, respectively. The Frontrunners foundation helps participants from developing countries to enroll in the program.
What is my point in telling my story? I believe that all individuals, at least once in their lifetimes, might want to get out of their boxes to reach a higher altitude or seek something amazing. Have flair to explore the unknown for a greater understanding of the world. I agree with Ferris Bueller’s point that “Life goes by pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look around, you could miss it.” This is exactly what I am trying to say. Whether you ski in the Austrian Alps, or visit a magnificent place in Syracuse, backpack in the Andes while exploring Machu Picchu, scuba dive under a hollow lid island of Spain, or anything you dare to dream of, you will feel like the luckiest person on earth!