Monday, December 22, 2008

Cartoon communication


Eager hands shoot up as the instructor calls for someone to illustrate how an angry man would look in a drawing. A student in the front row walks up to the whiteboard and places a simple zigzag line on the side of the man's head. It is only when the students raise their hands and shake them to applaud their friend's efforts that you realise they are all deaf.

"The deaf world is a visual world," says Sarah Giri, who led a recent cartooning workshop for the deaf at the National Campus in Balkumari. "Everything is picture, action and no sound. The deaf look at the world as a cartoon book."

With the help of cartoonist Yogesh Khapangi, the workshop aimed to provide the deaf with a skill that might lead to employment, or at least personal enjoyment. Most of the 27 participants were students from the school for the deaf in Naxal. Their deft hands, which guided the markers with such ease and confidence, showed no sign of them being new to drawing cartoons as they displayed an uncanny knack for expressing action and sensation visually.

Giri, who calls herself culturally deaf and has been working with the deaf for eight years, has introduced deaf culture and sign language on the National Campus in an attempt to raise people's awareness.

For Khapangi it was a totally new experience. "When Sarah first put forth this idea, I didn't think I could do it because I don't know sign language," he said. "But when she offered to act as the translator I agreed to do it."

He was delighted with the outcome. "They showed more interest than the hearing people do. They learned almost six months' worth of course work in the span of one week. During classes there was obviously no noise and their concentration was commendable. I have discovered about eight or ten students who can survive in the professional world."

Sunil Ale Magar, 23, who is studying for a Bachelor of Education degree, described the workshop as an experience of a lifetime. Another trainee, 25-year-old Rashmi Amatya, was offered a job on the spot after the editor of Chunamuna children's magazine saw her cartoons.

"Learning cartooning was so much fun that I wouldn't mind becoming a cartoonist myself, but I want to be a good teacher,"

said Rashmi, who is an artist and has made books for children before. "Some day, I would like to go to different parts of the world and meet different artists."

Kul Prasad Bhattarai, 23, inspired by the workshop, said he would like one day to become a deaf teacher and teach children what he had just learnt.

As Sarah Giri pointed out, the deaf in Nepal are not looking for charity. They want acceptance, recognition and an opportunity to work with the hearing. They want to be regarded as contributing members of the society.

Photo: Minratna Bajracharya

FROM ISSUE # (13 JUNE 2008 - 19 JUNE 2008)

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