Reading the signs: Using sign language to help others

Shauna Perigo

When sophomore Kelly McCormish traveled to Ghana over the summer, she did more than just feed children and change diapers—she changed the lives of deaf children and adults forever.

Because of help from McCormish and her mother, the deaf citizens of the Kumasi town in Ghana will be able to attend school five days a week.

Holding malnourished three-year-old KeKe on her lap, sophomore Kelly McCormish, dedicated her summer to volunteering in an orphanage in Africa
Holding malnourished three-year-old KeKe on her lap, sophomore Kelly McCormish, dedicated her summer to volunteering in an orphanage in Africa

McCormish, who is fluent in American Sign Language, was inspired to work with the deaf on her second trip to Ghana after socializing with them on her first trip. In a village an hour outside of Kumasi, McCormish worked with the deaf to come up with ways she could help them.

“We basically just started brainstorming with them,” McCormish said. “They mostly said they wanted their own businesses but they didn’t know how to do it, and they didn’t have the resources to set up those kinds of things.”

McCormish decided to set up classes for the deaf adults and children. However, she said they encourage the children to attend regular school on top of the classes.
“The best thing for the kids is that they become fluent in American Sign Language, they make friends, they socialize, and they actually get to go to school,” McCormish said.

She is currently trying to raise enough money to send the five deaf children in the village to a local boarding school, and so far she has only raised enough money to send one of them.

According to McCormish, the housemothers often neglect the children in the orphanage.

“They don’t really take care of the kids,” McCormish said. “They just kind of sit there. It was a lot of pushing the house mothers to let us do things. It was like, ‘This newborn hasn’t been fed for twelve hours. We’re going to feed him.’”
McCormish said that one of the toughest parts of working in the orphanage was having to resist speaking up about the child trafficking that goes on in fear of making it worse.
“I think just being at an orphanage, especially such a large government-run orphanage, is really hard,” said McCormish. “You have to be really tough to do it because there are a lot of things that you can’t do anything about because if you did something it would make it worse. There was child trafficking going on while we were there. There were children being sold and there’s nothing you can say about it because you’d get kicked out.”

McCormish collects donations through her website, www.hands-on-ghana.com. For $50, donors can pay money to sponsor a child and in return receive a photo of that student on their first day.