Learning to speak and sign helps Sabar to shine

To mark International Day of People with Disability, Kristi Pritchard-Owens showcases the work of a regional school supporting a hearing-impaired student.

Image: New opportunities: Sabar Shani-Baqi.

Until he started school three years ago, Sabar Shani-Baqi didn’t know any languages and communicated through gestures.

Then the profoundly deaf Ezidi refugee enrolled at Drummond Memorial Public School in Armidale.

Principal Julianne Crompton recalls a bright new student, who quickly made friends in the playground.

“Sabar has a beautiful personality and it shone through to the other students,” Mrs Crompton said.

“It didn’t matter that he couldn’t talk, the kids were making up their own signs so they could play with him.

“He showed so much determination, he wanted to be with the other kids.”

When a student has a hearing impairment, the Department of Education provides an Itinerant Hearing Support Teacher to the school.

Working one-to-one, they know Auslan sign language and encourage conversation as part of the learning process.

Sabar also has an in-school support person, Rosie Jack, and a very dedicated class teacher, Carleigh Eastlake, who can both sign.

From not knowing any languages, he is now learning three: Auslan, English and Kurdish, helped along by dual Cochlear implants received in 2021.

The Shani-Baqi family arrived in Australia four years ago, after initially escaping from Iraq into a refugee camp in Turkey.

As Ezidis, they were facing persecution and possible death if they stayed in Iraq, something that is not uncommon among Kurdish populations there, and in Syria and Iran.

Ezidi students make up one-third of the 242 students enrolled at Drummond Memorial Public School and the refugee families have become an important part of the Armidale community.

“Our families contribute so much to our school, they are always supporting us and helping out,” Mrs Crompton said.

And it seems Sabar has found a place where he can thrive.

Not only was the soccer fanatic chosen to be a sport captain for 2022, he was selected to participate in the region’s biennial school-age choral festival, New England Sings!

Sabar was one of two refugee students who led the Auslan signing of the opening number performed by 800 students.

Called ‘Stronger’, it was co-written by the Side-by-Side Choir, a group of students from the Armidale Secondary College with illnesses, disabilities and/or additional needs.

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