During an exploratory journey to Peru in 2013, we met Holly Wissler and her adopted nine-year-old indigenous son Dante Flores Apaza in Cusco. Dante’s compelling story is the catalyst to raise awareness about the dire situation of lack of education, resources, and employment for the Deaf in Peru, and to stimulate discussion and the search for solutions.
Dante was born deaf in the remote Andean community of Q’eros, Peru, where Holly conducted her fieldwork for a PhD in ethnomusicology. Q’eros is one of the few remaining Amerindian communities in Peru that continues to practice traditional music, weaving, and spiritual rituals. Living as potato farmers and llama and alpaca herders at nearly 15,000 ft. in the Andes, this indigenous community is one of few communities that retains its traditions in the wake of worldwide globalization.
Through her years of work in Q’eros, Holly became very close with this unique community, including Dante’s parents Victor Flores and Dominga Apaza. When Dante was only one and a half years old, his mother tragically died, and he was forced to move in with his maternal grandparents. At this point, Holly became Dante’s godmother.
With no mom and no deaf peers, childhood was very tough for Dante. Many in the community confused his deafness for a mental handicap and often called him “sonso” (stupid) because he was unable to communicate. While the people of Q’eros have an ancient wisdom connected to their mountain gods and mother earth, there is no education for special needs children in this isolated mountain environment. Unable to communicate and interact with others in the community, Dante was often left behind in the home while others worked the land. Even at the age of six, Dante was still unable to walk and was years behind his hearing peers in terms of development.
Troubled by his situation, Holly convinced Dante’s grandparents to allow him to move into the city of Cusco in 2011 in order to receive an education. When Dante entered San Francisco de Asis, a Catholic school for the deaf, his entire world began to change dramatically as he learned basic communication and socialization skills. His life transformed from non-communication, isolation and under-stimulation to bursting forth with curiosity, joy, and the ability to express his thoughts and feelings.
Meeting Dante in Cusco
After two years blossoming and growing mentally and physically, the Dante we met in Cusco was alive with energy, charisma, and an infectious appreciation for life. With a warmhearted spirit, and a laugh as memorable as Machu Picchu itself, it didn’t take long for the kid to win our hearts over. We had a great time with Dante, exploring Cusco’s cobblestone streets, playing soccer at the park, and visiting his new friends at the St. Francis of Asisi School for deaf Peru children. It was during this time that we first learned about the greater issues that deaf children face in Peru.
Deaf in Peru
Unfortunately for Dante and other deaf Peru children, their education will terminate at the 6th grade. Peru’s Ministry of Education passed a law in 2008 stating that all deaf Peru children must be mainstreamed into regular schools. Therefore, public schools for the deaf were closed down, yet no program has been put in place to train interpreters for the deaf students. The result is that deaf children sit in classrooms not understanding what is being taught, and many drop out. At this point in time, it is still a dream for deaf Peru children to get any kind of decent education, and later on good employment, since a high school diploma is required for many jobs. There is no high school education, and certainly not university study, for the Deaf in Peru. The result is that many deaf Peru people grow up to be uneducated and destitute, dependent on society and unable to make a living and live the full life that every human being deserves.
This utter lack of opportunity for the deaf in Peru was very troubling to us. In the United States, deaf children are able to receive a public education and subsequently build meaningful relationships with peers and feed their growing minds with valuable knowledge, and are valuable members of society. It is common for deaf adolescents to go on to become teachers, entrepreneurs, and even business owners. In our home in the Hill Country, there are thriving business like Café Crêpe that are owned and operated by deaf people!
From Cusco to Austin, Texas
Since Dante has no access to education after the age of 12, Holly took it upon herself to bring Dante to the United States to receive an education at the Texas School for the Deaf in Austin, Texas. Since Holly and Dante’s arrival in December, 2015, Tom, Turney, Shannon, and I have grown to love Dante and have shared many rewarding adventures together. On many weekends, we have set out into wilderness areas in the Texas Hill Country where Dante has the opportunity to return to his roots in nature. It has been incredible seeing how Dante reacts when he sees deaf people functioning and thriving among hearing people! For more info on our adventures with Dante, see the article in the Austin American Statesman at http://www.statesman.com/news/news/local/hearing-from-the-heart/nqmGN/.
Like Holly Wissler, we at Paragon Expeditions love the people of Peru, and it is our goal for deaf Peru children to have access to a full and effective education so that they can develop into valuable members of society. It is imperative that we raise awareness about this issue, as the future of thousands of underprivileged children in Peru depends on it.
Holly’s Deaf Education Documentary
Holly is in the funding stages to produce her third documentary, which will tell Dante’s incredible story and expose the issues that deaf Peru children face to a wider audience. The intention of the documentary is to stimulate awareness, dialogue, and change. Holly is a woman of immense integrity who truly lives to improve the lives of others. It is our goal to help Holly expose the issues the deaf Peru children face so that deaf adolescents can learn, grow, and thrive in Peruvian society. A portion of the proceeds from the documentary will sponsor programs and activities that will enhance the education of deaf children in Peru. Therefore, your donation for making this important documentary will ultimately help touch the lives of many deaf children who deserve the same chance at education, employment, and a full life as hearing children.
If you believe this is an important cause like we do and would like to make a contribution, please donate at www.gofundme.com/deaf-peru. For donations of $100 or more, Paragon Expeditions will extend a 10% discount on any Peru Expedition and will send you a copy of Holly’s documentary once it is complete.
If you would like to make a larger contribution to Holly’s project or are interested in learning about alternative ways to give back to Peru’s underprivileged deaf community, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.