By Marte Hellema, Youth Co:Lab
Krishneer Sen is originally from Korotogo village, located in the beautiful coral coast of Fiji. To gain a better education and work opportunities, he moved to the Capital, Suva . A regular young man with dreams and ambitions, except for Krhisneer was born deaf. All his life he has had to learn to adapt, a skill that served him well once COVID-19 hit.
Krishneer is the only the deaf person in a hearing family, he uses sign language to communicate with loved ones. The language barrier was a major challenge. As a kid, doing normal things, like watching cartoons and news on TV, was difficult, as there were no subtitles or other tools.
As he grew up, he struggled to access information and avail to equal opportunities, especially in education and employment.
As Fiji lacks accessible information and communication means for hearing impaired people, he was constantly facing new challenges, as many in the deaf community still do today.
So he decided to change this reality. He said, “No more”. And from thereon, he dedicated his life to help other people like him.
Through the Youth Co:Lab, a project co-led by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Citi Foundation, Krhisneer got the opportunity to turn his dream into reality. He established Deaf Consultancy Pacific (DCP) in 2019. DCP provides quality consultancy services to improve the lives of deaf people.
They offer sign language training, translation and interpretation, and deaf awareness training in the workplace to ensure that they become more inclusive.
DCP aims to foster a society that is inclusive of the deaf and disabled, through the empowerment and engagement of stakeholders in areas of education, economic growth, and equality.
Their mission is to create a Pacific society that is free of discrimination for deaf people, through inclusive and innovative solutions.
Soon they found themselves in a situation where stakeholders and communities requested their assistance in the form of sign language lessons, employment advice, translations and other services. Things were going well.
But, then COVID-19 hit. Cases were increasing and restrictions were imposed. It greatly affected DCP, and Krishneer himself.
He started to worry about his own family, and the safety of the deaf community at large, especially as there was little information available to the hearing impaired. News updates and COVID updates lacked sign language interpretation. The deaf community is already among the most marginalized groups in society, and in crisis situations like these that is further aggravated.
He was also worried about his business. How would the pandemic affect DCP? Would there still be interest in their services?
As the situation escalated in Fiji and the economic impact became more apparent, a stricter lockdown, including a curfew was put in place. Bookings for interpreters came to a halt. It gave Krishneer a lot of time to think about how to adjust the services DCP offers. He adapted.
He decided to spend some time volunteering by making sign-language translations for important video announcement of the government about COVID-19. He also decided to move the planned sign-language learning sessions online.
Both initiatives quickly picked up speed, as viewings of his videos increased, and people expressed interest in online lessons. It even gave them the opportunity to cross borders, with clients using their services from their homes in other countries, such as New Zealand.
The fear of unemployment and financial difficulties because of the pandemic for the deaf youth involved with DCP was lifted, as they found themselves employed as sign language teachers. They have been able to reach many more people than they would have normally been in contact with through their sign language videos.
Going online has also given them the opportunity to learn new skills and try creative, innovative ideas. They are looking into holding webinars about deaf culture, and the rights of all people with hearing impairments.
But it has not been an easy journey. The curfew and the lockdown have been circumvented to some extend by going online, but sign language is unique in its grammar, syntax, and facial and body expressions, which makes it difficult to teach online. Much of the sense of culture and community, Is also lost online.
The technical aspect of using the web also provided a steep learning curve. Little was in place before, so they had to start from scratch.
Sometimes, slow internet connections and lack of technologic resources to support clients’ access has been an issue. And a lack of financial support available, has prevented them from further improving their new services.
Still, they managed to continue to work, they adapted, and they made a significant contribution to keeping their communities safe.
Throughout the process, Krishneer was able to rely on the support of his team, and that of the Youth Co:Lab.
“I would advise others to take alternative method for delivery of services and spend a bit of time volunteering during the crisis,” Krishneer reflects, “I have learnt that doing online activities will help the clients obtain a new skill while they stay home and work. The deaf community strongly relies on visual aids and what we do is part of promoting and maintaining the deaf culture for everyone.”
Co-led by UNDP and Citi Foundation, Youth Co:Lab establishes a common agenda for countries in Asia-Pacific to empower and invest in youth so that they can accelerate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through leadership, social innovation and entrepreneurship. Read more about Youth Co:Lab here.