First Deaf student graduates in Vanuatu

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Of an estimated 150-250 million Deaf people worldwide, only 2 per cent are followers of Jesus Christ. The Deaf community are among the largest unreached and unengaged people in the world.1 In fact, most of the people around the world who are Deaf have never seen Jesus’ name signed in their language.2 Indigenous communities face a particular disadvantage, with there being a lack of schools and resources for those who are Deaf. 

Matafanga Adventist Primary and Special Needs School was the first school in Vanuatu to specifically cater for children with special needs. Matafanga currently has more than 100 students and was opened by Dr Mark and Naomi Turnbull in 2008. When the school first opened, the Turnbulls faced serious opposition from other denominations wanting the school to be closed due to their Adventist beliefs. However, because the school was operating as a Special Needs School, it was allowed to remain open. Since opening, the school has a track record of a 100 per cent pass rate for every year 8 and year 10 student in Vanuatu’s national exams.

Jeanette Bice, a Deaf student, has been attending the school since the it first opened. Jeanette and her sister Suzie, who is also Deaf, had developed their own style of sign language at home as they were unfamiliar with the standard sign language, which posed a significant challenge to Jeanette’s education. Her teachers were unfamiliar with her style of sign language and did not know how to communicate academic concepts to her. However, after spending time with Jeanette as well as receiving some sign language materials, Naomi was able to communicate with Jeanette and teach her numbers, the alphabet and a few basic hand signs. 

After a few years, more Deaf students enrolled in the school and Naomi saw that they needed help. Naomi contacted Kimberley Davey, who travelled to Vanuatu from Australia for 3-4 months as a volunteer to teach sign language to the students, arranging sign language dictionaries for each Deaf student. Kimberley also helped the two sign language teachers in Vanuatu to understand more Auslan, the Australian Sign Language. With the help of Kimberley, the students experienced a marked improvement in their learning.

As Jeanette progressed in her studies, Naomi sought assistance to further Jeanette’s education by reaching out to Christian Services for the Blind and Hearing Impaired (CSFBHI). They were able to organise a scholarship to help Jeanette and her teacher Forine to travel to Australia for two months. During this time, they attended church each Sabbath and a Deaf camp. These experiences provided spiritual and social opportunities to interact with other Deaf Christians and improve her sign language skills. Not only this, but Jeanette and Forine were provided with Auslan tuition lessons for one to two hours each week. This time in Australia proved to be a huge asset to both Jeanette and Forine, and motivated all the other Deaf students at Matafanga to learn more. In December 2023, after 15 years of being a student at Matafanga, Jeanette sat her year 10 national exams and passed, reportedly the first Deaf student to do so in Vanuatu.

According to Naomi, Jeanette is now enrolled at Aore Adventist Academy for year 11, however is struggling without the support of her sign language teacher. 

”I think Jeanette could possibly benefit from hearing aids or a cochlea implant, if funding was available,” Naomi said.

 Incredible things are happening at this school, giving Deaf individuals the opportunity to learn about Jesus and receive an education. Everyone should have access to education and the ability to hear, see, learn and feel the love of Jesus in their lives. 

Contact CSFBHI if you would like to assist on +61 2 9847 2296 or

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