Nepali Times
Sarah’s children


SOUND OF SILENCE: Yuri Bhattachan dances from memory even though she doesn't hear the music.
Agroup of teenagers is practicing a dance routine on the lawn, their movements fluid and sinuous perfectly synchronised with the instrumental number 'The Dawn' coming from a CD player. The dancers go through their ballet-like movements with flawless coordination.

But the dancers are all deaf. The music is only for the benefit of their instructor, Sarah Yonzon, who has dedicated her life to helping Nepal's hearing impaired and is training this group for a charity performance soon. As a test, Sarah turns the music off. The dancers can't tell the difference, and keep dancing. The only sound is their deep breathing and the shuffling of feet on the grass-they are dancing from memory.

Sarah is the former Radio Nepal English news reader, now better known as the wife of vice-chairman Tulsi Giri. But few in Nepal know about the passion with which she has devoted herself to helping those who do not hear. While in Bangalore with her husband, Sarah enrolled to learn sign language at the Dr Chandrasekhar Institute of Speech and Hearing. Later she worked on a program to find jobs for the hearing impaired in Bangalore's IT and banking industry.

When she returned to Nepal with her husband after the royal takeover a year ago, Sarah started trying to find out where she could help. But first she had to teach herself Nepali sign language, which was different from the language she had learnt in India. Asked to compare blindness and deafness, Sarah quotes her role-model, Helen Keller: "Blindness separates a person from things, deafness isolates a person from people."

That is why Sarah decided the deaf needed help to communicate so they could be a part of the hearing society. "The deaf hear through their eyes and speak with their hands, and they have a whole culture that is visually-defined," Sarah explains.

Sarah Yonzon signing with her dancers.
As a part of her effort to allow Nepali deaf children to communicate and participate in creative activities, Sarah chose the medium of dance. First she taught herself movements from popular Nepali folk tunes and hits like the score from the film Godfather and painstakingly performed in front of the children. They memorised the hand and foot movements, and learned to 'feel' the music. After months of practice in Sarah's backyard, it is now possible to watch the children without even knowing that they do not hear.

Rashmi Amatya, Muna Gurung, Yuri Bhattachan, Jamuna Dahal and Anita Prajapati and others have by now mastered 10 dances, and can't wait for their big day when they perform for the public. Being great mime artists, the deaf are born for dance and Sarah's children already seem to have more confidence and passion than most dancers who can hear.

Sarah doesn't want to have a standard public performance with speeches and an MC. Instead, there will be a video presentation with a voice-over for the benefit of those in the audience who can hear. And the theme? Says Sarah: "We're going to call it 'welcome to the world of silence."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)