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Friday, 18 January 2013 13:02

Mrs Mooniamah Sooprayen – When disability does not deter people from excelling

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We have often heard that ‘disability is not a fatality’. Indeed, it is a true statement. Disabled people sometimes achieve more than many able-bodied persons.
Mrs Mooniamah Sooprayen is fully aware of this and she gladly shared her experience with News on Sunday. Deputy Head Teacher at the School for the Deaf, she would never quit her job for all the gold of the world. With her heart full of affection for all her students and a strong sense of devotion, she encourages each one of them to become successful and independent adults.

Long gone the days when people thought that a disabled child was a burden or a fatality. Gone also is the time when the disabled were considered as incapable. Thanks to strong-minded persons like Mrs Mooniamah Sooprayen, mindsets have changed and disabled children are enjoying to the fullest their right to education and to life itself. Mother of three, Mrs Sooprayen has been working at the Unit for the Deaf at Doorgachurun Hurry Govt. School at Goodlands for nearly 22 years.  “I started off as a Tamil teacher in primary school from 1976 to 1991. Then I shifted to the Unit of the Deaf at Doorgachurun Hurry Govt. School, Goodlands,” she told us.

To give her best to the children, Mrs Sooprayen took special training courses. She confesses that at that time there was no sign language in Mauritius but her strong will power led her to do lots of efforts for what she believed in – disabled children have lots of potential that need to be tapped and cultivated so as to flourish. “I received training from the Society for the Welfare of the Deaf at Beau-Bassin in order to be able to deal with these categories of children. I also benefited from an in-service training in Special Education Needs on Mauritian Sign Language delivered by Mr Alain Gebert from ‘Institut National de Jeunes Sourd’ of Paris (France).

I even have an “Attestation de stage de formation’ from the ‘Institut National Supérieur de formation et de recherché pour l’éducation des jeunes handicapés et les enseignements adaptes’, Suresnes, France. All these have enabled me to assimilate various means to teach the pupils of the Unit for the Deaf.” During our visit to the school, we were pleasantly surprised by the happiness and smile on each face. Mrs Sooprayen proudly told us that the kids can sing the national anthem through the Mauritian Sign Language. Indeep, their skills had been so appreciated by many that they are now solicited in many functions to perform the National Anthem by the MSL.

Our devoted teacher’s deepest inspiration to open a school for disabled children came from within her family as her second son is a disabled child. “As I am a mother of a disabled child, I wanted to work in a set-up which could accommodate him as well as to create a school from which  disabled children could also benefit. Since my husband was working as Deputy Head Teacher at Doorgachurun Hurry Govt. School and the fact that there was a building available over there, we both decided to take measures to open a special school. With the help of ex-Minister of Education Mr Parsuramen, with the collaboration of the Society for the Welfare of the Deaf, the unit became functional as from September 1991,” she confided. “I developed a sincere love for my work. Despite my own problems, I now teach those children as if they are mine,” she happily added.

Mrs Sooprayen was strongly attracted by the cause of deaf children as she understood the ordeal that some parents may be experiencing with such special children. “Being a parent of a disabled child myself and hence understanding the difficulties that other parents must be facing, I wanted to dedicate myself in helping these children integrate the society and all this starts with access to quality education.” As education is the key for excelling in every sphere of life, Mrs Sooprayen seized a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make it accessible to the deaf children. Starting off with 25 deaf pupils and three teachers, the school now has ten pupils and two teachers. “This is due to the fact that the children are now attending the special school found nearer to their home,” she explained.

The School of the Deaf follows the mainstream courses as per normal school and offers several facilities to the children such as music, sports activities, dance classes, ICT courses, speech therapy, audiology and  is supported by psychologists. Mrs Sooprayen explained  that teaching is done through the Mauritian Sign Language but highlighted that visual aids, lip reading, facial expressions, body movements and gestures are used as well so as to develop the children’s understanding. “Visual and auditory elements combine to open the world of communication for hearing impaired children,” she stated.

Every day is a blessing
Her best reward is now to see the many children she taught grow into independent adults. “My hard work has borne its fruits. I am so happy to see that my students have become autonomous. Though some have passed in only one subject in the CPE exams, this has helped them to get a job and become independent… I must say that the present students love their school, teachers and friends. Every day is just a blessing for them to being able to come to school,” said Mrs Sooprayen with a smile.

The Deputy Head Teacher advises parents not to get discouraged. “We must make education become their power and find appropriate outlets for them. We must keep on helping them remove barriers to participation in all aspects of society. We must treat them with lots of love, care, time, patience, support in daily activities, encouragements…” Wearing several hats, Mrs Sooprayen has known how to balance her life as a wife and career woman without neglecting her motherly duties. “Being a working mum is not the easiest job in the world. I believe that the point is that it is the women who should have the right to exercise the option to work or not to work, assuming that they have one.

And if they do elect to pursue a career, it is important that her families be supportive.” She said that there is no secret for a woman to be embracing so many different roles. “We have no choice. I think it’s God’s miracle and blessings that allow us to handle such a life effectively,” she disclosed. Mrs Mooniamah Sooprayen’s message for Mauritian women is “Life is a daring adventure. Don’t be afraid of storms. Where there is love, inspiration, strength, patience, planning. I don’t think you can go wrong.” She advises disabled children and people “Don’t let disability get in the way but turn disability into ability!”

Jameela Jaddoo

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