Spreading Happiness through Sign Language
By Richelle H. Verdeprado
The author, a social worker by profession was, until recently, the Editorial Assistant of MISYONonline.com. She is now teaching full-time at the University of Negros Occidental – Recoletos (UNO-R) in Bacolod City.
Your first glance at this young woman from Cagayan de Oro City named Marice would make you remember her curly hair and smiling eyes. But when you would see her use her hands to communicate with the Deaf you would then remember her as someone whose ears and heart are always embracing the Deaf, especially children. You would think of her as a selfless and dedicated volunteer.
Welcome Home Foundation, Bacolod City
Marice B. Gallares is the fourth of five siblings. Her mother chose the name ‘Marice’ because it is a diminutive of ‘Mary’. Her father died when she was 17. After graduating from college, she took a course in Basic Sign Language offered by the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro. She had no idea about Sign Language before that but was excited because she would be traveling to a different town and would stay with other students for six weeks. At that time, the program was being handled by Columban Fr Richard Pankratz. That began her exposure to the work of the Columbans.
Marice likes the charism of the Columbans and she even wished to become a lay missionary. She has many missionary friends and said that she really felt the warm welcome of the Columbans as though she was a part of the family. Marice has never felt out of place with them and she is always fascinated with the simplicity of the lives of the Columbans and their profound commitment to their mission.
At first, Marice found Sign Language to be really difficult. It gave her headaches. It confused her most of the time and even up to now she knows that there is so much to be learned still and that she has to be patient and to persevere. However, after understanding the impact it made on the lives of the Deaf, she started to see Sign Language in a more meaningful way.
It is her interaction with the Deaf and her relationship with them that has made Marice appreciate what she is doing. The Deaf have given her much inspiration to keep on learning so that she can continue getting to know them and be a voice for them too.
That is how she began her life as a volunteer with the Deaf. For six years now she has been an interpreter at Mass every Sunday. The impact it is making may not be that significant for others but for the Deaf and those who love them it means a lot.
‘I’m happy with the Deaf. I feel happy to see them happy. And even though there’s no salary, when the children hug me and smile at me and tell me their stories I feel happy. They are always excited to share about their life, both happy and sad stories, and I am thankful to be able to understand them and to know that they understand me,’ Marice said. It made me say that Marice signs to spread happiness to others and to the world.
Marice also volunteers to teach catechism to Deaf children and to prepare them for their First Holy Communion. It requires commitment to volunteer. Even if there is only one deaf person present at Mass there’s still a need for an interpreter to sign. Every deaf person deserves to ‘hear’ God’s word.
When I spoke to her in May this year Marice had just finished a Sign Language summer course run Welcome Home Foundation, Inc, in Bacolod City, and is now back in Cagayan de Oro City. Welcome Home was founded nearly 30 years ago by the late Columban Fr Joseph Coyle.
She is currently a member of the administrative staff in a pre-school in her parish and continues to volunteer as an interpreter at Sunday Mass.
To facilitate the process of bringing God’s word to the Deaf through Sign Language is an important mission that Marice has taken to heart. She just feels that to know how to sign is both a gift and a responsibility.