Arming the world’s deaf youth with knowledge

wfdys board
WFDYS Board Members Top row: Benjamin Bekoe, Ghana; Shirley Liu, Australia; Alejandra Galione, Uruguay and Simon Herdman, United Kingdom. Bottom row: Laith Fathulla, Secretary, Sweden; Cecilia Hanhikoski, President, Finland and Mark Berry, New Zealand.

British Deaf Association Youth board member Simon Herdman became the first Brit on the board of the World Federation of the Deaf Youth Section last year. Here he explains what the organisation does and why he wanted to join it.

I did two simple things on 26 April 2015 that would shape my life for the next four years. I filled out a World Federation of the Deaf Youth Section board nomination form. Then I sent it to Ashley, the chair of British Deaf Association Youth to check with the BDA before sending it on.

Fast forward to July and I was in sunny Istanbul, Turkey, eating kebabs, drinking from a turquoise (the unofficial colour of the Deaf community) Coke can, immersed in a debate using International Sign with several deaf youth from all over the world over the upcoming vote that would decide whether the XVIII World Congress of the World Federation of the Deaf 2019 would be held in Hong Kong or Paris.

We walked back to enter the VI Youth General Assembly of the World Federation of the Deaf Youth Section (WFDYS), where in a couple of hours I would be giving my presentation to persuade deaf young delegates from 30 different countries to vote for me to enter the WFDYS as a board member. I was nervous as no Brit had participated in the Youth Section’s board since the 1980s but, after a speech in which I said I wanted the youth organisation to play a role in empowering people to challenge their governments on education (more on that later) I found myself elected on to the board alongside New Zealander Mark Berry.

wfdys logoWhat is the WFDYS?

But, you might be wondering, what is the WFDYS? Do not worry, readers, I will shed some light on the youth organisation in this article. The WFDYS is the youth wing of the World Federation of the Deaf and works to advocate the human rights of deaf youth around the world. While it has a separate board, its aims are in accordance with those of the WFD.

The WFDYS grew out of the Youth Working Group which was set up in Espoo, Finland in 1987. Brits Jeff McWhinney and Sylvia Simmonds were involved in this Youth Working Group. The Working Group changed to the WFDYS just before the WFD’s 1995 Congress in Vienna.

But what does the WFDYS actually do? In a word – camps! The WFDYS oversees three camps targeted at different age groups: the Children’s Camp for 9-12-year-olds; the Junior Camp targeted at those aged between 13-17, and then the Youth Camp for 18-30-year-olds. These camps are held every four years and are hosted by different countries. Their objectives are to provide leadership training and education on human rights, with a focus on equality and advocacy. Not only that, the camp participants will get to exchange cultural experiences and celebrate linguistic and cultural identity. Long-lasting friendships and strong networks that strengthen Deaf communities are formed at these camps too.

Developing countries

WFDYS fundraises funds to bring participants from poorer countries with financial constraints to its camps – these people go home with an extensive network from which they can draw knowledge, experience and, most importantly, empowerment which will strengthen local Deaf communities in their countries.

The WFDYS Youth Camp is held just before the WFD Congress (also held every four years) and camp participants usually go on to the Congress (the cost of the camp includes entry to the Congress). The WFDYS holds its General Assembly just before the Congress and camp participants can attend along delegates. It was at the General Assembly in Istanbul last July that I was elected on to the board. So not only do participants learn leadership skills and form networks at the camps, they are also introduced to a whole universe of opportunities at the Congress with its inspirational deaf leaders from all over the world and its stimulating keynote presentations.

The next WFDYS camp will take place in 2019 in Paris, France and I will be flying to Paris shortly to inspect the location to ensure if it is suitable for the Youth Camp.

So what motivated me to become a board member of the WFDYS? Well, in the world today we have some 70m deaf people – a whopping 80% of whom live in the developing world. Statistics indicate that 16% of this 70m have access to education, and only 3% of this 16% has fully inclusive access to sign bilingual education. So that leaves us with millions and millions of deaf people who have no education, never mind bilingual education.

There’s a lot of work to be done and I want to ensure that the WFDYS camps play a role in this and arm people with knowledge they can use as ammunition in challenging their governments to improve accessibility in education. As mentioned above, the networks formed in camps give young people a sense of empowerment and they can bring this back to their national Deaf communities and not feel alone as they fight the good fight.

The WFDYS believe in the right to education and active participation of deaf youth in decision-making processes and so are key to unlocking the door to accessible education and opening up a future of equality for all young deaf people.

The next camp will be the Junior Camp in 2017 and it will be taking place in Melbourne, Australia. For more information on the dates and locations of the camps, please do have a look at WFDYS’s website.

We also have a Facebook page where we announce any updates. 

Plus keep your eyes glued on British Deaf Association Youth to find out how to apply for these camps. They truly are the opportunity of a lifetime so don’t miss out!