He made a cross with his fingers and pointed it toward me. I furrowed my brow.

If a kid walked up to me like this in America, I would have forked over my wallet, because surely, he was throwing up a gang sign. But this isn't South Central. It's the Buea School for the Deaf and this boy only wanted conversation.

“What is your name?” he asked in sign language.

I twisted my fingers rather clumsy to spell what I hoped translated to Heather. He shook his head and smiled.

It is the end of the rainy season here so all the roads are slick mud baths that make the mountainous terrain even more difficult to travel. To get to the Buea Deaf School, Hailey, a Peace Corp volunteer from Seattle, and I mounted a motorcycle taxi. It was my first time on a motorcycle. I gripped the metal bars beside me and held on to Hailey's belt buckle. The ride to the main road was smooth. Then we pulled on to the trail to the school.


Eyes closed, I tucked my head into my jacket as we skid up the rocks. It was like trying to ride a motorcycle up a slip-n-slide covered in Dawn dish soap. When we arrived some kids were already dressed in their blue and yellow uniforms. Others had small towels around their waists, and toothbrushes hanging from their mouths.  


Part of my job for the Youth Advocacy Network in Buea is to shoot a sign language video for the children at the Buea School for the Deaf. The videos will be used to help family members communicate with the kids when they return home.

I saw first hand the impact these DVDs will have when a new girl walked into the school. She looked about 15. Her eyes were fixed on the ground. A student stood beside her and signed, Good Morning. The new girl looked up and offered a half smile. In 10 minutes, she was learning basic conversation signs along with her mother.

The glee of this teaching moment was hampered when it was time for the girl's mother to leave. They travelled two days to get to Buea from another village.


She sat on the bench while the other children whipped their hands into a frenzy trying to find out who she was. My heart sank. I decided to walk over to her, but she was gone. The school cook was a in the distance struggling with a cast iron pot. The girl quickly jumped out of her seat to help.

Twenty minutes later: