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Beyond education and employment, students at St. Clare learn the importance of faith in human life. “We have a Divine Liturgy every morning, followed by a morality class,” says Sister Abhaya. Every Saturday and Sunday, Sister Abhaya tells them stories from the Bible. During summer holidays, retreats are organized for the children, structured around prayer and meditation on the glory of God.

“Parents are happy that their child is learning something that gives them a moral compass,” Sister Abhaya says. “Mothers and fathers are hugely supportive of us and the school.”

It is a May afternoon. The combination of heat and humidity in Kerala can be stifling, especially when the temperature climbs above 95 degrees. This is one such day at the school. Secondary-school students continue to attend class; the others, now on vacation, will be back in June. All around the school, people flit about engaged in various activities, conversing in sign language. Outside, boys divide themselves into teams for a game of basketball.

Kevin Sebastian walks in with his father, Sebastian Joseph. Kevin has been at the school for six years now. His father works in Nigeria but has taken a sabbatical from work to be with his family in Kerala.

“Kevin was 2 years old when we realized something was amiss,” he says. “He wouldn’t respond to sounds. That’s when we took him to the doctor and found out that he couldn’t hear.”

Kevin originally attended a school without the means to meet his special needs. “I just sat there, day after day. The teachers were sympathetic and kind but I didn’t learn anything,” Kevin says. “I couldn’t hear anything; no one would talk to me because they couldn’t communicate in sign language and that was the only way I could convey things.”

When he came to St. Clare, things changed. “At last, I could make friends. I poured my heart out, all those emotions and feelings that I’d been suppressing for years.” Kevin has come to excel in sports and music.

The school’s efforts to serve deaf and hearing-impaired people are not limited to its enrolled students; Sister Abhaya has also produced Bible-study videos in sign language. No such materials were available, she says, “so we made three DVDs. The feedback has been very positive.”

Ajith Paul does not want to go home during the summer holidays. The young carpentry student has already won awards for his work. “I love it here,” he says. “When I go home, my parents and brothers have their own lives, so they’re busy with that. I help around the house, cleaning and cooking.”

At home, his family has taken little effort to learn to relate to him. At most, he says, they will hand him the television remote. “But there’s no point in that because I can’t hear or understand a thing. It’s boring,” he says. He often feels similarly isolated at weddings and other family gatherings. “I just sit there. No one talks to me. They don’t know my language.”

Returning to school, then, comes as a relief. “The most frustrating thing at home is not being able to express myself, my feelings. All my friends are here; my life is here,” he says.

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