*Shway and his family came to America when he was 14-years old as refugees from Burma.
Shway spent the first fourteen years of his life alone and isolated. For fourteen years, Shway wasn’t able to communicate or speak with anyone, not even his family. Shway was born deaf.
Unfortunately, neither Shway’s family nor anyone in the community knew sign language. Growing up in a community where learning how to sign wasn’t an option meant Shway could not attend school. This meant he did not have the opportunity to develop language; he didn’t learn things had names or the scribbles on signs or books had meaning.
Even though the kids around him went to school every day, he would spend his days alone trying to make sense of the world around him.
The day Shway boarded the plane to America, he didn’t know where he was going. It was like any other day, he followed his family. He didn’t know that a whole other world was about to open up to him. He didn’t even know other places existed.
Soon, Shway would be able to tell someone about his day, how he felt or if he was hungry. He would be going to school and learning for the first time. Finally, he would know what the things around him meant. He would have friends to connect with, laugh with; he would have teachers and interpreters who believed in him and cared for him.
I’m sure if you were to ask Shway now, he would say he had no idea how much his life would change just by boarding the plane to America.Once Shway arrived in America, he still had many challenges before him. Not only was he in a new country with new cultures and customs but he would start attending school. Shway’s challenge now was to start learning how to communicate and it would be tough. Majority of children started learning as infants, Shway was 14. He had to start from the very beginning. He had to learn the alphabet, colors, nouns, and verbs, and to read and write. Not only did he have the challenge of learning one language, but Shway had to learn two: English and American Sign Language. With a lot of support from teachers, interpreters, and STARS Services for Students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing program, Shway was able to learn quickly and he excelled!
However, Shway still couldn’t communicate with his family. His family did not speak English, and they didn’t know how to sign. This made it very difficult for Shway to communicate with them as well as for them to learn sign language. Eventually, Shway’s sister learned sign language and was able to help him communicate at home. For the first time in fourteen years, Shway was able to develop a relationship with his family.
Shway came from a place of darkness, loneliness, and isolation but through his hard work and determination he was able to flourish. None of this could have been achieved without his incredible strength and courage. Recently, Shway, a graduating senior from Hillsboro High school, a student of STARS Services for Students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, received an award for the tremendous courage he’s shown throughout his life. Shway’s tremendous courage and willpower to overcome the many challenges he’s had to face are humbling. Now, Shway hopes to continue his education, work, and someday travel all over the world. We can’t wait to see what the futures holds for you, Shway!STARS was able to:
- Work with Shway’s family to teach them sign language. Shway’s family is able to communicate and have a relationship with their son.
- Offer family support – from teaching the family about Deaf Culture to valuable resources available for Shway.
- Involve Shway in social activities for the deaf including after school programs and camps.
- Help Shway gain work experience by exposing him to volunteer opportunities to further his knowledge.
- Create a transition plan for life after high school.
To learn more or stay updated with our Services for Students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, visit our page.
*Name was changed for privacy.