There is a special painting class held every weekend in Ho Chi Minh City with no tuition fees, no lectures and no talking between the students and the teachers.
The free painting class of Mekong Art Club has more than 20 participants of different ages from different provinces. The youngest student is just 17 years old while the oldest is nearly 65 (Photo: kenh14.vn)
Instead, they communicate by body language and the only sound that fills the room is the sound of colours.
“There is no sound in the world of the deaf,” said painter Bich Ngan about her small classroom.
“My lecture can't be heard and sometimes I can't understand their sign language. However, the teachers and the students have a strange mutual understanding through art. Colour is also a kind of sound, helping the painter confide their innermost feelings that are unspeakable,” she added.
Launched in March 2017 with a few members, now the free painting class of Mekong Art Club has more than 20 participants of different ages from different provinces. The youngest student is just 17 years old while the oldest is nearly 65.
“I was moved to witness many hearing-impaired children giving signals in public to ask for help. Then I thought I had to do something. Fortunately, they know how to read and write so I suggested they learn how to paint. If they were interested, they could go to my workshop and I would teach them how to paint,” recalled painter Van Y.
The biggest barrier is communication. The teachers and students have to communicate with pens and papers and if the teachers want to lecture, they have to write on the board while the students have to write on paper if they want to ask anything.
The teachers have also gradually learned sign language to pass the knowledge to their students more easily.
"Life is fair. If a person has their voice and sound taken by God, they will be endowed with another gift, and for the students of my class, it is the gift for colours,” Ngan said.
The improvement and creativity of each student often surprise the teacher.
“Many ordinary people sometimes could not paint as beautifully as them,” the painter says.
Job opportunities for the disabled and the hearing impaired in particular are hard to come by. Most of the jobs on offer are manual or handicraft work with low salary, which are likely to offer little self-esteem.
“Our initial aim is to teach them a job. We do not expect them to get rich but at least, to become more confident and erase the complex that they are a burden to society,” Ngan said.
Even though both Y and Ngan have encountered many challenges in maintaining the class, they still try to create the best environment for their students.
“Opening the class was easy, but maintaining it is particularly difficult. Honestly, we teachers are not well-off, and sometimes we have to make ends meet to have expenses to purchase the colours, brushes and then to cover the students’ meals or outdoor painting trips,” the teacher said.
They teach without tuition fees, spend their own money to manage the class and have overcome many difficulties, but Van and Y have never thought of giving up, as they get great happiness when seeing their students improve and take care of each other.
The teachers and the students’ efforts have paid off. In 2018, the painters have been able to earn a living by selling their works.
“In the past, I did not think that I could paint such paintings,” says student Gia Huy in sign language. “After being instructed by teacher Y, now I feel proud of my paintings, even though they are not truly excellent but sufficient to convey my speech.”
Though many outstanding works of the students have been sold and their income has improved, the teachers do not consider money the ultimate purpose of the painting class.
“The initial purpose is to help them become more confident and overcome the complex about their handicap. Now they have become much confident in their self and not being a burden for society anymore,” Y said.
Half of the money collected from selling the paintings is kept by the students, 25 percent is to maintain the class and the rest is used to help other disabled people.
At first the students did not support the idea because they reckoned that they were handicapped and unfortunate people in society. They argued that if society didn't share with them, why should they share with society,” Ngan explained.
“Expecting them to learn more about other unfortunate plights, I contacted the Association of the Blind in Phan Thiet city in the central province of Binh Thuan and asked for permission to allow the deaf to directly present gifts to the blind.
“When they held hands, despite being unable to hear or see each other, they still can feel and communicate via their hearts,” the teacher says.
After that meeting, the students changed their minds. They understood that at least they have legs to run, hands to paint and eyes to contemplate the beautiful world. They have realised that losing the voice doesn't mean losing everything.
“The students have received support from the teachers so they should also learn how to share with others. We receive and then we give, that’s the way of life,” she added.