A FEW MONTHS AGO, no one knew that a simple exhibition planned by Gallaudet University in Washington D.C.  to mark the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps and share the fact that deaf people have served as Peace Corps Volunteers would expand into a far more complex story. Norma Morán (Kenya 2000–03), senior adviser to the project explains:

“We started out trying to reach as many deaf and hard of hearing people as possible who have served in the Peace Corps. We hoped that five or ten would respond with photos or objects, and never dreamed that a new archival collection of over 450 photographs would be built within a few months.”

PCV Allen Neece with 13 yr old boy just learning sign language — Guyana

PCV Allen Neece with 13 yr old boy just learning sign language — Guyana

Morán is one of 59 known deaf Volunteers who have served with the Peace Corps since its founding. From that group, 36 Volunteers contributed photos, objects and stories. As the exhibition expanded, Gallaudet’s University Museum quickly moved it to a larger space.

MOST DEAF VOLUNTEERS WORK in educational programs for deaf children, and sometimes are involved with the very first school for deaf students in a host country. Like all Volunteers, deaf PCVs shared the experience of being resourceful and making the best of challenging situations. They came to host countries as an embodied example of an educated deaf adult, and often introduced the idea that deaf children could learn.

While considered an outsider from a local or regional perspective, deaf Volunteers often find a common bond with deaf students and close friends from within local deaf communities.  Their skill at cross-cultural communication and comfort with people staring at them signing, along with that instant connection with fellow deaf people, offered a comfort factor that, perhaps, hearing Volunteers did not share.

PCV Pauline Spanbauer teaching sign language — Philippines 1976

PCV Pauline Spanbauer teaching sign language — Philippines 1976

THERE WILL BE opening reception for the show that on October 25 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Immediately following the reception there will be a “living exhibit” performance where six deaf Volunteers will share stories in a theatrical setting.

Earlier that day a student from Gallaudet’s International Development program will moderate a panel discussion that will include both deaf and hearing RPCVs, offer a chance to take a look at ways deaf and hearing experiences align or diverge, and examine best practices in international development work.

Please join the Gaullaudet community on campus for this celebration, and very first gathering of deaf people who served the Peace Corps. All events are open to the public and accessible in spoken English and American Sign Language.

The Schedule:

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. Returned Peace Corps Volunteers Panel Discussion
I. King Jordan Student Academic Center
“G” Area.

2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. Gallaudet University Museum Exhibition Opening
Making a Difference: Deaf Peace Corps Volunteers
I. King Jordan Student Academic Center
Weyerhaeuser Family Gallery and Exhibition Hall.

4:15 p.m. — 5:15  p.m. Gallaudet University Museum Living Exhibition
Performance of Peace Corps Journeys
Eastman Studio, (Black Box) Theater, Elstad Auditorium.

Gallaudet University
800 Florida Avenue NE
Washington, DC