Deaf and blind boy in swing with woman pushing him.
MCC photo/Meghan Mast

Mohammad Dwakat (right), who is both deaf and blind, with his teacher Saly Khreysat at MCC’s education partner The Holy Land Institute for Deaf and Deafblind Children (HLID) in Salt, Jordan (2018).


Playing time: 
Join Threads for a conversation about MCC's education work in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

Listen in as our host Kyle Rudge delves into MCC’s education work with Manitobans serving in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Tune in for inspiring stories from Cambodia, Jordan, Palestine and Israel with Phyllis Mann and Joan Alty.

Threads, formerly known as Word and Deed, was established in April 2007. It is a 15-minute radio program by KR Words featuring the work of MCC in Manitoba and around the world. Threads broadcasts on CFAM AM 950, CHSM AM 1250 and CHRB AM 1220 at 8:45 am on the first Sunday of the month. 

Audio Transcription:

Kyle Rudge (00:02):


It begins with a single thread woven through other thread and then another and another, until we have a single piece of fabric. That fabric is stretched, cut, and stitched together with another just like it. This process is repeated over and over and over until we have a beautiful tapestry that all began with a single thread. Welcome to an MCC Threads, where we look closely at how our stories in Manitoba weave together with the stories of MCC and its partners around the world.

The kids are headed back to school. Soon the schoolyard will be filled with the joyous din of children playing during recess and at least if you're in the city, 30 kilometer an hour speed limits in school zones.

Joan Alty (01:02):

And then they heard about HLID and they brought the kids there and it was, well, a transformation for everyone.

Kyle Rudge (01:10):

For my children, the excitement of the new year and reconnecting with friends on a daily basis is certainly present. However, it's part of our yearly routine. It's nestled right there between staying at grandma and grandpa's in southern Manitoba for a week and the Halloween candy they acquire every year. It's quite easy for us to forget or perhaps neglect that school could look very different in other places of the world.

Joan Alty (01:36):

I'm Joan Alty and I am the co-rep for MCC Jordan, Palestine and Israel.

Kyle Rudge (01:44):

Joan is currently placed in Jerusalem where she lives now. However, she is originally from Manitoba in a little town, that despite being very close to Winnipeg, I had never heard of.

Joan Alty (01:53):

Howden, Manitoba, which is an area just south of St. Norbert. We're very close to the perimeter in Winnipeg.

Kyle Rudge (02:00):

Joan shared with me two education projects that she thought might really catch the attention of her fellow Manitobans. The first is called the Holy Land Institute for the Blind, in particular the deaf blind unit sponsorship program in SALT Jordan.

Joan Alty (02:14):

It is a structure, a stream of the Anglican church in Jordan. They have a very large school for the deaf, but they have a special program that they opened more recently for people who have two disabilities. The kids are both blind and deaf, so that of course makes it much more difficult to reach them because you can't use sight as way of reaching the kids.

Kyle Rudge (02:41):

The school currently has 15 students. The students are cared for full time as they do board there.

Joan Alty (02:47):

Usually families find it very difficult to reach them. So the program both works to educate academically and life skills of the students, as well as the parents to be able to communicate with their children.

Kyle Rudge (03:03):

My children are seven and ten now, and if I'm honest, I struggled when they were babies, because I longed to communicate with them, to talk with them, to discover their personality through speech and conversation. I cannot imagine how hard it would be if either of my children were both deaf and blind.

Joan Alty (03:20):

One of the stories that we were told when we visited there last March was of this family who had twins and both were deaf and blind, and they honestly did not know what to do with these kids. These kids were basically left lying. They fed them, but they didn't know how to reach them, and then they heard about HLID and they brought the kids there. And it was well a transformation for everyone because the parents would've been clueless as to how you reach someone who's both deaf and blind and the kids weren't being stimulated. There was nothing they could see or do other than feel things and they weren't developing, and at the school they developed.

Kyle Rudge (04:11):

Joan was telling me that the school for the deaf is well known and respected in Jordan. However, this particular program is very well known and respected across Jordan and even surrounding countries.

Joan Alty (04:24):

They use something called four hands, which means the instructor and the child touch both hands to each other so they can move each other. Because they can't see the hands, they have to feel the sign language that they're being taught. The school is, it's a beautiful place for those of us who are sighted. It's full of bright colors and very nice setting, but it also has all the special adaptations for someone who is not sighted. So for example, they'll use different little surfaces to tell you on the stairs when you're ending the stairs. There'll be something tactile on the bottom, on the top. Their rooms will have something that's tactile as they go to find their room at night. Yeah, so it's a very intensive support.

Kyle Rudge (05:28):

Last week, I made my way down to Sam's place here in Winnipeg to meet up with the area co-directors of southeast and northeast Asia. We recorded just after the lunch hour, so it may explain some of the background noise we had.

Phyllis Mann (05:41):

All right. Yeah. So I'm Phyllis Mann from Winnipeg and I'm working with Mennonite Central Committee in Southeast and Northeast Asia. I'm the area director, along with my husband Arthur, and we're located in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and the countries we supervise - Are you interested in that? - are Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and North and South Korea.

Kyle Rudge (06:04):

Education is important to MCC and its work. So it should come as no surprise that any area director, rep or worker would have stories of education projects that MCC is involved in.

Phyllis Mann (06:18):

So in this situation in Prey Veng -

Kyle Rudge (06:20):

Prey Veng is a province in Cambodia located in the southeastern part of the country. Its landscapes are picturesque with rice paddy fields and palm trees. It's also one of the more lower socioeconomic provinces in the country.

Phyllis Mann (06:34):

We have over 900 students and we're working with thirty teachers and the teachers are a main focus, but we also have community people, 150 community people. So community people would be parents, would be maybe the mayor of the town, would be people from the wat, like from the temple so religious leaders, grandparents who are involved. So those are the kind of community people that we're working with.

Kyle Rudge (07:05):

Cambodia has some unique challenges as it pertains to education. It was not long ago in the country that many teachers and sometimes even people who just appeared smart, were killed. This has left a huge gap in the country for solid teaching, but also solid educational practices.

Phyllis Mann (07:23):

So MCC recently did an evaluation of our work in the primary schools, and they notice that primary schools need help in learning teaching methods that engage students attention. And the thing is that they want to engage students without using the traditional classroom discipline, such as a whip or yelling at students. What they found at the beginning was that parents didn't like this new approach, like they're saying "How can you be a good teacher, you're not even hitting my children." Like this is how they equate good education, is very strict and uses physical punishment. So that's why it's so important that we're engaging community people. We have to train people what good education is.

Kyle Rudge (08:15):

And their work is truly making a difference, not just in those four schools, no, in shifting the culture across the country.

Phyllis Mann (08:24):

So in 2020, the government of Cambodia, the ministry of education adopted strict new guidelines on peaceful discipline and non-violent classroom management. And so now that the teachers are getting it as a government directive during the COVID years when there wasn't much school going on, but then also kind of from the MCC walking alongside. So you have it coming down from the government, but then also MCC kind of embracing people and saying “We can help you with this. We have some good techniques.” So on the ground in Prey Veng, we have an MCC worker who has been with MCC for 10 years maybe more and she's Cambodian. And she does the training for the teachers and a lot of demonstrating. So when I was there recently, Arthur was there a different day, but we both saw her showing the teachers and showing us what kind of methods they can use that are like non-violent and getting people involved. Learning is taking place, is what was happening.

Kyle Rudge (09:35):

Switching back to the Middle East, and in particular the Negev province in Israel. MCC is involved with a school there that's making similar peaceful waves in their community.

Joan Alty (09:46):

This school, which has both Jewish and Arab teachers in every classroom and the administration is both Jewish and Arab, have brought students together so that the other is known to each other. And basically they learn three languages. They learn Hebrew, they learn Arabic and they learn English. So it's an amazing, these kids are just so turned out because they've got this facility that is just, they're growing up in it. The teachers have to be really committed because there is a lot of things, like everything in Israel is political. Any topic you deal with, from what road you drive on, to what food you eat, to how you describe the situation in the country, is 180 degrees different between those two groups. It's attempting to get an understanding of each other.

Kyle Rudge (10:46):

These students will do a lot together, for instance, like celebrating both Jewish and Arab holidays and holding community events that are intentional about being welcoming to both Jewish and Arab peoples.

Joan Alty (10:59):

Well, I saw three little kids tell us all about how they would design their town and they showed us, you know, why they put the school there and why they did that. And one was Arabic, one was Jewish, one was Bedouin Arabic, and they were like friends. So that's growth because, you know, it's very, very hard to mix outside of your group. Nothing is designed to bring people together. If you lived in West Jerusalem, you would have a hard time finding an Arabic friend. We live in East Jerusalem and it's very difficult to find a Jewish person to even get to know because they are completely separate worlds. It's a work in progress that has a chance to make a difference,

Kyle Rudge (11:51):

A chance to make a difference.

Phyllis Mann (11:53):

Well, sometimes like when I'm thinking about this story and about the traditional techniques of school discipline that have been used, when I talk about that, I get sad when I think about Manitobans and maybe that's how they're going to see Cambodia and, you know, look back and say, "oh, they're so backward" or “that's so old fashioned". So that part makes me sad when I see that gap. So my message would be that Cambodia wants to change and wants to become more peaceful and more progressive and use these techniques. It's just hard, you know, it's just hard to change. We know that right? From wearing masks and washing our hands so much, making some of those changes has been hard. And now to move back to a different way of interacting in society, is a change. So it's hard for the people of Cambodia.

Joan Alty (12:51):

I think we all feel a responsibility to people with disabilities, like the way our city has changed to make our sidewalks accessible, to make elevators accessible. We all are conscious of that and this is just giving those kids with double disabilities, a chance at some sort of life giving life.

Kyle Rudge (13:17):

Education is important to MCC and education for individuals with disabilities. Those in need of non-violent educational practices and breaking down walls between two people groups that have been in conflict for years? Even more so. It's, as Joan said, a chance to make a difference.


MCC Threads is produced by KR Words with story assistance from Nikki Hamm-Gwala. Thank you to Joan, Phyllis and Arthur for sharing your stories of education, making a real difference through MCC and its partners. Before we sign off a couple of announcements. Come out for a family friendly afternoon of music and performances, food, indigenous arts, crafts and more. The annual We are All Treaty People celebration takes place at the Forks in Winnipeg on Sunday, September 18th. Visit for more details. Also, you are invited to MCC Manitoba's annual general meeting. Join MCC at Sterling Mennonite Church in Winnipeg on Thursday, September 22nd for an evening of storytelling and reporting on the work and growth of MCC Manitoba. For more details, and to register, visit I'm Kyle Rudge and this is MCC Threads.

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