Profile Source: A Worker in SE Asia
Introduction / History
The Deaf in Thailand speak Thai Sign Language (which is different from American Sign Language). There are regional dialects and each school has its own accent. But Deaf people from different parts of the country are able to understand each other with relative ease. Many people have been exposed to ASL (via the internet and tourists) and some of the signs have become part of the local language.
Deaf people tend to congregate around Deaf communities. Because most of their families do not sign, Deaf communities are more independent and have fewer family ties and responsibilities. Deaf people have their own culture and customs that differ from the hearing culture of their families because of the shared language with other Deaf people. However, Thai hearing culture has influenced Thai Deaf culture and there are many similarities.
Where are they Located?
The largest population of Thai Deaf is found in Bangkok (the capital city). Big cities attract Deaf people because there are more job opportunities and larger Deaf communities. Chiang Mai also has a significant population and an active Deaf Association. Presently The Thailand Deaf Association is working to have a Deaf association in each of the 77 provinces. At this time there are only a handful of associations mostly located near large Deaf schools.
If the family is poor and cannot afford to send their children to school they will stay in their family's village, isolated from other Deaf people and never learning Thai Sign Language. This does happen occasionally in Thailand but in recent years, education is more affordable and so this happens less frequently. After graduating many students will not return to their village, but will instead move to Bangkok, Chiang Mai, or stay in the city where the Deaf school is to become a part of the community in and around the Deaf school.
What are Their Lives Like?
Most Deaf people in Thailand are born into an all hearing family. They are alone and there is no one to communicate with them. Sometimes there are other Deaf people nearby or a sibling/aunt/ or cousin that is also Deaf. The age in which they start school can vary. For most Thai Deaf school is the first time for them to meet other Deaf children and see sign language. Deaf schools in Thailand are boarding schools and so their class mates become their family.
A few Deaf people attend a collage, but for the majority of people this is not possible. In large cities there are opportunities to work as street vendors, factory workers, hotel staff, and other odd jobs. Many Deaf women become prostitutes. Some return home and work on the family farm. For these people life is often lonely with only occasional interaction with other Deaf. The government does provide a supplement for Deaf people that cannot find work. It is not enough to live on so people who do not have family often live on the streets.
What are Their Beliefs?
Most of Thailand, hearing and Deaf, are Buddhist with a healthy dose of animism. Spirit worship plays a huge role in people's lives causing them to live in fear. The Deaf often don't know the reason behind their worship. They only know what they can see and observe because rarely is there someone who will explain it in sign language. They are Buddhist only because their family is, and they want to honor their families.
A small percentage of Deaf are Muslim, again because of their families. Most of these people live in Southern Thailand. An even smaller percentage of Deaf people are Christian. The word Christian includes Catholic, Jehovah Witness, the Korean Cult- Mammon, and Evangelical believers. The Jehovah Witness have a large following and in Southern Thailand the Mammon cult is taking over already existing Deaf Churches.
* Pray for boldness for believers to share with their friends and family.
* Pray for university campus churches as students graduate and disperse throughout the country to Deaf schools in the provinces, that they will take the Gospel with them.
* One day we hope to have the Book in Thai Sign Language. This is a lengthy process and will take a lot of work. Ask that the Father will place the right people with us at the right time.
* Pray for the Deaf living in the villages with no access to the Gospel.
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