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Alumna Tracey Cholmondeley, founder of the volunteer-run organization Seeing Eyes Signing Hands, and Fred Beam, of the performance company Invisible Hands, have been collaborating to raise funds for the deaf communities of developing countries for quite some time. The two have helped to buoy deaf education and community activities in Trinidad, Jamaica, and Bermuda. Their most recent effort, however, is the most personal for Cholmondeley.

Cholmondeley, who received a bachelor’s degree in art from Gallaudet in 1992 and a master’s in deaf education in 1997, launched a campaign to benefit deaf students in Guyana, her home country, in 2006. Cholmondeley grew up in the former British colony, situated in South America just east of Venezuela. She is a graduate of the David Rose School for the Deaf, which was run by England at the time.

The deaf education system of Guyana is in a precarious position now, Cholmondeley said. Many Guyanese deaf students attend schools that lack qualified teachers and modern technology. “Guyana had a wonderful deaf education system until the 1980s,” she said. “The system’s collapse was due to the teachers leaving because of the Guyanese government’s refusal to raise their pay, as well as Guyana’s independence from England in 1966.” She added, “It has not improved since its collapse.”

Cholmondeley and Beam are stepping up in a number of ways to improve deaf education in Guyana. They are providing deaf awareness workshops for members of the Guyanese government, who have little or no experience with deaf education and have not prioritized having it improved. The pair also provides workshops for untrained teachers at deaf schools and spreads awareness of deaf issues to the public. In addition, they organized various workshops, mini-shows, and a gala last September during Deaf Awareness Week.

Efforts undertaken in the United States by Cholmondeley and Beam include collecting donations of educational books and DVDs and computers in good working condition, and raising funds by selling authentic Guyanese cuisine. They also provide presentations on Guyana and dance shows by Invisible Hands in order to fund the next Deaf Awareness Week event–and finish paying off the Deaf Awareness Week 2010 expenses.

Anyone is welcome to volunteer for Seeing Eyes Signing Hands. Cholmondeley invites anyone seeking more information to contact her at sesh4guyana@yahoo.com.

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