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Teaching the hearing-impaired in Timor-Leste

15 June 2012

Mr Viswa Sadasivan (left), Chairman of the U@live organising committee with Mr Yap during the Question and Answer session

Mr Yap (far left, standing) at the Agape School for the Deaf in Dili

Spurred by his personal experience and the urge to make a difference, Mr Alvan Yap took one year off his editorial job in 2010 to help the hearing-impaired in Timor-Leste. He recounted his time as a volunteer teacher with the Singapore International Foundation (SIF) during the latest U@live session, a monthly forum organised by alumni and the Office of Alumni Relations which showcases prominent members of the NUS community.

On his choice of going to Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste, Mr Yap said: "If I can, why not? What do I have to lose?" He highlighted that while many people talk or think about volunteering, there is much to gain by taking concrete action.

He still vividly remembers the time when he taught students, ranging from eight to 52 years old, at the Agape School for the Deaf in Dili. While most of them did not have the chance to go to school, they enjoyed the process of learning to count and write. Mr Yap felt privileged to have assisted the students in their learning journey. During his year there, he also contributed to developing a curriculum and a standardised sign language system.

"My own disability made me more open-minded and easier to relate to the students," said Mr Yap, who is also hearing-impaired, candidly. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from NUS and a diploma in special education. Prior to his volunteering work in Timor-Leste, he has taught at the Singapore School for the Deaf. He is now an editor and writer with a publishing company, and still volunteers with the SIF on an ad hoc basis.

The engaging U@live session provided a platform for participants to discuss and voice out their thoughts about the local educational landscape for children with special needs.

Currently, Mr Yap is displaying photographs of his life in Timor-Leste as part of Montage 2012. This week-long celebration of the photographic arts includes exhibitions and workshops at the Shaw Foundation Alumni House at NUS.