Grace is called to serve the deaf community in Dakar, Senegal. The deaf school where Grace volunteers is quite small and understaffed. All the teachers are Senegalese except Grace. The students look up to Grace a lot, it’s clear that they’re always glad to see her and have a close relationship with her. Many of the students come from tricky home situations, and live on campus in dorms, which is also a chaotic environment, so Grace’s home is very much a safe haven to them.
The students at the deaf school, and deaf people in general, are marginalized in their society. Most families have no idea how to educate a deaf child, so many of the students are not in the right “grade level” for their age. Some may attend school for the very first time as a teenager, so naturally they must fill in educational gaps before moving forward. The school accommodates this nicely. Most of the students are from Muslim families. The school is a Christian school, and teachers are Christians, so there are many opportunities to share the Gospel. Muslim families send their deaf children to the school regardless, knowing the options for their education are limited.
Grace studied American Sign Language in the USA and was fluent before moving to Africa. Senegalese sign language is quite different than American sign language, fusing ASL, local gestures, and French words to create a new conglomerate. When Grace arrived in Senegal, she spent her first year working at the deaf school with a specific focus on learning Senegalese sign language. Due to this immersion experience, she is now fluent in Senegalese sign language, to the point of being able to translate fluidly from spoken English to Senegalese sign language (or vice versa).
This means Grace is already fluent in three languages: English, American Sign Language, and Senegalese Sign Language, which is very impressive and is no small feat. However, the primary languages in Senegal are French and Wolof. Grace’s heart is to be the best possible advocate for the deaf community in her area, and so she has decided to take some time off from work to study French intensively. Personally, I was impressed with Grace’s ability to navigate Dakar using her existing knowledge of French and Wolof; she hails taxis and negotiates prices, does her grocery shopping, and taking public transportation with no trouble. However, her French conversational skills are still limited when it comes to deeper topics or professional settings. Grace wants to be able to translate from Senegalese sign language to spoken French (and vice versa) with ease, making sure to communicate eloquently on behalf of her deaf friends. This will enable her to help her friends navigate, and open doors for them as they pursue potential career paths. Grace is currently taking French classes five days a week to reach that goal.
Two things that impressed me about Grace’s character: her intentional creativity in connecting with and loving her friends, and her flexibility and openness to giving her time to building relationships. Grace doesn’t label her daily activities as “ministry” or “projects”—to her, they’re just natural ways to love people genuinely and passionately. They come from her heart, not from some sort of underlying agenda. Sometimes I think even she may not realize what great ministry she is doing just by giving people her time, or a listening ear.
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