Video Interview: Richard Geary, Founder & ED, FESF

Video: Richard Geary, Founder and Executive Director, FESF

 Sixteen year old Abeera in Karachi prepared for her final year in Deaf Reach School. Despite being deaf, she can do everything but hear. Abeera is not only an intelligent student, excelling in all subjects, but also a confident and empowered female. Upon completion of her matric examination, she began training in customer service and management at Pizza Hut in Karachi, becoming the first of 60 deaf young adults to eventually work in the Pizza Hut chain in 3 cities via a collaboration with Deaf Reach.

Stories like Abeera’s are being written everyday thanks to Richard and Heidi Geary, Founders of Deaf Reach Schools and Training Centers, a project of Family Educational Services Foundation (FESF). Inspired by their own deaf child, the Gearys made it their life’s work to provide greater opportunities and combat stigma for students who are deaf and hard of hearing. There are upwards of 1.25 million deaf children in Pakistan, yet less than 2% have access to education. Deaf Reach is doing its part to make a difference!

Small Beginnings
Already working in the social development sector, the Gearys began the Deaf Reach initiative in the Philippines in the early 80’s.   They were subsequently invited to Delhi, India where they pioneered an innovative program which brought deaf students together to learn English, work on community service projects, and enhance their sign language skills.

They later crossed paths with destiny when visiting Pakistan to assist on a short term project. They saw that many deaf youth had no access to education, were socially marginalized and unable to find employment. The Deaf lacked a voice, and were unable to achieve their potential or improve their quality of life.  The Gearys decided to stay, and started a small one-room school with 30 deaf students in a donated office space in Saddar, Karachi.

Greater Growth

25 years later, the Foundation has seven Deaf Reach Schools located in Karachi, Hyderabad, Nawabshah, Sukkur, Tando Allahyar and Lahore, as well as one in Adana, Turkey – all centers of excellence, providing free education and skills training to thousands of deaf children.

“It’s what I call a transformational education,” Richard says, as the schools combine international standards and an innovative curriculum. Deaf Reach students sit for the Gov’t matriculation exams receiving A’s and B’s in almost all subjects. In order to provide opportunities for higher education, Deaf Reach School instituted its first college class in 2014.

Richard continues, “We have a holistic approach to education, and our students from grade four onwards also learn marketable skills such as IT, sewing, embroidery, painting, pottery, handicrafts, cooking –  ultimately leading to gainful employment for graduates.”  Their beautiful artwork, embroidery designs and handicrafts are often on display at local bazaars.

Teacher and Parent Training Programs

The Teacher Training Program develops candidates to meet the great need for teachers of the Deaf.  50% of Deaf Reach teachers are deaf themselves, many being former students who now have an exciting career in deaf education and make great role models for the children.

The Parent Training Program was developed with an emphasis on teaching sign language to strengthen parent-child communication skills,  enabling parents to learn their children’s “native tongue” –  Pakistan sign language.

PSL Learning Resources

FESF’s Work Recognized by KFC

Deaf People on the Job

The vocational skills taught in school prove to be highly pragmatic once the student graduates and is in need of employment.  Via Deaf Reach’s Job Placement and Career Development Program upwards of 500 deaf youth have secured work in various companies in Pakistan including teaching, restaurants, banks, engineering, valet services, the arts, logistics, packaging and more.  Deaf Reach,  in partnership with KFC Restaurants,  launched an innovative project in 2007, opening a KFC branch that was fully deaf-staffed. There are now seven deaf-run branches of KFC throughout Pakistan, employing 125 deaf youth.  This community outreach through employment has created greater awareness and understanding that people with disabilities are indeed capable and able to contribute, and has helped to engender an environment of inclusion.

Students Receiving an Award from Toyota for their Artwork

How You Can Help

The cost to educate a student is just $50 per month, inclusive of free tuition, books, materials, uniforms, lunch, and pick/drop transportation for each student up to 25 miles. Parents contribute on a ‘pay-as-you-can-afford’ basis, with the average being only $4.50/month as they are from a very low-income level.

Funding is needed in order to build capacity and take in more students, develop more teachers, and create more opportunities.  You can sponsor a student, a classroom or a whole school, and make a real difference in the lives of many.  Your support is greatly appreciated! 

In Conclusion

FESF has impacted the lives of thousands, empowering those who are disadvantaged. They are doing their part to provide a voice to the Deaf through education, employment, and language resources that will enable them to live a quality life and give back to their nation.  Let’s work with them to help make education a reality for all the deaf children in Pakistan.

To donate, please go to: http://www.fesf.org.pk/make-a-donation
Learn more about FESF: http://www.fesf.org.pk
Learn more about Deaf Reach Schools and Training Centers: http://www.fesf.org.pk/deaf-reach-schools
Learn PSL at psl.org.pk
Deaf Reach on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/deafreachprogram
Video: Experience the National Anthum Like Never Before:
http://www.fesf.org.pk/experience-the-national-anthem-like-never-before/