Known as Escola ba Tilun Diuk in Tetum, the school is the first and only one for the deaf in Timor-Leste.
Established in 2004, it is now recognized and supported by the government of Timor-Leste. The school accepts all deaf students regardless of age, and uses sign language as the medium of instruction.
The Fernandez family arrived in Dili in 2001 and set up their NGO-cum-school in January 2002 with just five deaf students. Classes were held every Sunday.
In August 2004, with Mrs Rosmin Sebastian’s help, the deaf school became a twice-weekly program and attracted over 20 deaf students. But the program suffered a setback due to the civil unrest in 2006 which led to many students and their families fleeing Dili.
Since then, the school has gradually recovered. It now offers classes five days a week, from Monday to Friday. It has also established a 1000-word Sign Language vocabulary based on a hybrid of local (native) signs, Filipino Sign Language and American Sign Language. The school now offers sporting, cooking, sewing and other recreational programmes.
The first batch of six students successfully graduated in July 2009. There are currently more than 50 students, aged 6 to 52, who are divided into two sessions and three groups: Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced.
Growing From Strength To Strength
Four of the senior deaf students have been trained as teachers and teacher aides, and have been working as paid staff of the school since 2011. We are looking to train more promising deaf students as teacher aides and administrative staff.
In 2010, the Singapore International Foundation sent a full-time volunteer teacher on a year-long assignment to Agape to help develop the school’s curriculum.
In May 2012, a team of six deaf athletes from the school landed in Seoul to take part in the Asia Pacific Deaf Games. It was a historic occasion, being the first time the Timorese flag has flown in any international Deaf event. We have started to train our talented deaf sportsmen and sportswomen with an eye towards the Asia Pacific Deaf Games to be hosted in Taiwan in 2015.
In 2012 and 2013, we started a livelihood program in which students sew aprons and make metalwork art pieces for sale, and also run a stall at Timor Plaza. Music lessons were expanded and we got to perform musical pieces and song-signing items at events such as the Prime Minister’s birthday party and International Day for Persons with Disabilities celebrations. We also continue to focus on improving our academic programs for all levels.