The first Filipino to be awarded the World Deaf Leadership Scholarship to study at Gallaudet in 2012, Ana Arce plans to teach deaf undergraduate students as her way of ‘giving back.’
MANILA, Philippines - This is a story of love, hope, courage and sheer determination: the life of Ana Arce, a woman who relentlessly pursued her dreams despite being born deaf.
She is the first Filipino to be awarded the World Deaf Leadership Scholarship at the Gallaudet University in Washington, where she completed her master’s degree last May. She is back in the country to share with the deaf community what she has learned. She wants to teach and help them become empowered individuals.
“I was born Deaf. When my parents discovered this, like most hearing parents of Deaf children, they felt that the only way for me to survive was if I learned to speak, and so they enrolled me in different oral schools where I had to wear hearing aids and learn how to lip read. I tried my best in these schools but still it wasn’t easy for me to adjust,” 27-year-old Arce told The STAR.
Eventually, her parents thought of moving her to another school for the Deaf where sign language is used as the medium of instruction.
“I quickly adjusted and started doing well in my academics,” she said.
But still, life wasn’t easy for her both in school and at home. Arce recalls struggling to find her place in college. She went to a school that mainstreamed Deaf and hearing students.
“In this format, teachers would be speaking, alongside an interpreter for the Deaf. But the classroom atmosphere for me was quite difficult, not because most of my classmates were hearing, but because we didn’t know how to communicate with each other, and there was some sort of discrimination. My hearing classmates would opt not to include me in class projects and activities even though I want to participate. I felt stuck and disappointed,” she said.
At home, during her younger years, she felt out of place when family members spoke to each other.
“My family members spoke with each other, and as a Deaf person, I could not understand what they usually talk about so I often have to ask them about it. I then hoped that they could sign whenever I was present. But over time, some of my family members learned some Filipino sign language. Yet, outside of those experiences, I am still happy to belong to a very loving family,” Arce says.
Arce would later move to the De La Salle-College of St. Benilde School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies.
“At St. Benilde, which I call a second home, not only did I find an academic institution, but I also found an environment where teachers and other members of the community welcomed us. I felt loved and cared for and I felt that the school was like a family. I learned the true meaning of a Deaf person and that the word Deaf is spelled with a capital D which means that I am not only a Deaf person but I am someone who is part of the Deaf community, partaking in its unique language and culture,” Arce says.
After graduation, Arce worked as a graphic artist with hearing colleagues for almost three years. It was during this time that she realized she wanted to pursue a master’s degree.
“I realized the Filipino Deaf community’s need to improve their lives and empower them, which led me to pursue a master’s degree. It had always been my dream to study at Gallaudet University, Washington, D.C., an academic institution known for its prestige as an institution committed toward excellence in Deaf education. It is also the first and only Deaf University in the world where I experienced a truly signing environment,” Arce says.
In 2012, her dream came true.
“I am the first Filipino to be awarded the World Deaf Leadership Scholarship to study at Gallaudet in 2012. I completed a master’s degree in Deaf Studies: Cultural Studies in May 2014,” Arce says.
Still fresh from completing her degree, Arce is already planning to “give back” by teaching Deaf undergraduate students in Benilde this year.
More than teaching, she hopes to help society become aware of the needs of the Deaf community.
“I hope to not only help them go through college, but also make them good researchers, and active advocates in their respective communities. In my advocacy, I’m looking at opportunities to bring the needs of the Deaf into the consciousness of society, especially the hearing people. I aim to help integrate the Deaf and the hearing together in unity, bridge the communication gap, increase awareness of the Deaf culture, and raise the respect for the natural sign language of the Filipino Deaf - the Filipino Sign Language,” she says.
To put it simply, she says, she wants to tell the world that Deaf people can do just about anything that hearing people can.
“I want to let the world know that the Deaf people can do anything, except hear,” Arce says.
(Editor’s Note: The Philippine STAR’s #28StoriesOfGiving is a campaign that turns the spotlight on 28 inspiring stories of people and organizations who devote their lives to helping themselves or others. Everyone is encouraged to post or “tweet” a message of support with the hashtag, #28StoriesOfGiving. For every post, P5.00 will be added to The STAR’s existing ‘give back’ anniversary fund. For comments and suggestions to #28storiesofgiving, email firstname.lastname@example.org follow @philippinestar on Twitter or visit The Philippine Star’s page on Facebook.)