Introducing the World to Deaf Refugees

Written by Lauren Timberlake, Bhutanese ESL Director

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Guman, Josh, and Chandra
When Guman and Chandra Poudel first came to English class two summers ago, I wasn’t sure we could help them. We have many students who have had little-to-no education, but I had never taught anyone who couldn’t hear. Guman and Chandra are deaf, but they wanted to learn and were so happy to be in class. We paired them with Josh Downing, a first-time conversation partner, and he found several resources to help them begin to understand what we were covering in class.
In Nepal, being deaf is a serious handicap. There is often no education offered to deaf individuals, and they are not able to work or fully socialize with society. Most deaf people have no way to learn a sign language. As refugees, The Poudels have even more hurdles to face than the rest of the Bhutanese community because their life experiences have been so limited. We really wanted them to be able to learn American Sign Language and experience more community and opportunity in Kansas City. We prayed for help, and God sent us Rev. Debbie Buchholz from Deaf International in Olathe.

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A volunteer from Deaf International teaches
Guman sign language during ESL registration.
Debbie and a team of volunteers from Deaf International have been working with Guman and Chandra for more than a year. They are teaching them American Sign Language and everyday life skills that are new to them--like using silverware, hand soap, and pushing a shopping cart. Debbie said, “They have been put into a culture where being deaf means opportunity to follow God’s plans and prosper in whatever area God has placed them in. They both want to get married, have a family and drive a car. We say they can….they say they can’t. God has placed us in each other’s lives, and now it is our privilege to move forward in introducing the world to them and them to the world. The key is not giving up.”

In addition to expert help from Deaf International, Josh (their conversation partner) has spent the last two years as Guman and Chandra’s best friend. He works with them at English class every week, visits their home, often drives them to church (Deaf International Community Church), and has been there when they needed him most. Josh has been learning American Sign Language along with them, too. It’s amazing to see what God does when intentional relationships are formed. Josh has given so much, but he has also been changed by this unlikely friendship. Josh says, "I love Guman and Chandra and have learned so much from my relationship with them. I have worked to teach them English and ASL, but they have given me a class in getting outside myself and communicating on levels that I'm deficient in. Much like how Christ calls me to hear on a level deeper than words, they have helped me to grow in deep hearing, in hearing things that really matter and communicating in ways that really connect."

Guman and Chandra can now write their names and have simple conversations in ASL. They have greater respect from their Bhutanese community and have many American friends, deaf and hearing, in Kansas City. This has given them much joy. Josh shares, "In the last couple years I've seen Guman and Chandra really come more alive and connected as they have grown in their language abilities. One simple example of this growth is that almost a year ago Guman was lost and needed to be able to communicate his name to some strangers. At the time he had learned enough ASL to be able to fingerspell his name to them. A year later, were he to find himself in the same scenario, he would also be able to write his name in English. There is so much power in knowing and being able to communicate your name in the native language. It's incredibly encouraging to have seen Guman and Chandra work to develop this particular skill."

At Mission Adelante, we love people from other places--regardless of their ability to speak English, read, work, or hear. We desire to welcome newcomers to our city, help them see what’s available to them, and shower them with dignity and respect. We are thankful God sends volunteers like Josh and partners like Debbie, who come alongside us in this mission.

Important dates:
  • Volunteer Orientation & Training: Saturday, May 17, 9:00-12:30 All volunteers should attend this training once at the beginning of serving with Mission Adelante. It's also a great way for someone to become familiar with Mission Adelante's ministry. If you or someone you know is interested in finding out more about what we do, and about our volunteer opportunities, please plan to attend/encourage him or her to plan on attending this informative training, and to contact Morgan at for all the details.
  • All Volunteer Huddle & Dessert: Monday, May 19, 6:30 p.m. We encourage everyone that will be volunteering with us during our summer trimester to attend so we can prepare for a great launch. 
  • Summer trimester programs launch: Week of May 26