ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

Ephpheta…Where Miracles are a Daily Occurrence

Thanks to the Ephpheta Institute, hearing-impaired children in Bethlehem are learning to speak.

Two huge dark eyes focus intently upon the slim Italian nun standing at the front of the chalk-white classroom. The Sister, moving her lips slowly, pronounces a single sound from the complex Arabic language.

On cue, the attentive child moves her own lips even more slowly, and with great effort, produces a sound which is not at all like the original one.

The two patiently repeat this process, over and over, until the child’s sound matches that made by her teacher.

This apparently-undramatic scene at the Ephpheta Institute Paul VI in Bethlehem represents an event which is only slightly less miraculous than that described in St. Mark’s Gospel. For the child is a deaf-mute, and the single syllables which she strives to learn will enable her to build a vocabularly with which she’ll communicate with the outside world.

At Ephpheta, which is funded by the Pontifical Mission for Palestine, (sister organization of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association), miracles such as this one occur every day. Armed with the most up-to-date teaching methods in existence, twelve Sisters of Saint Dorothy work to shatter the lonely silence of their 82 students.

Founded at the request of the Holy Father to commemorate his historic visit to the Holy Land of 1964, Ephpheta Institute “for Audiophonetic Rehabilitation” first opened its doors to the handicapped from the area in September, 1971. The seven years which intervened – between the dream and its realization – were filled with much planning and hard work.

Ironically, a major obstacle to be overcome involved language. Although the Italian Order specializes in deaf-mute rehabilitation, the nuns had to first master Arabic themselves, before teaching the difficult tongue in Bethlehem.

Presently under the direction of Sister Bartolomeo, the Superior, Ephpheta’s main goal is preparing the children to become active members of society. All teaching methods used relate to this goal.

Trained free of charge, “on the basis of need, not creed,” children are first given I.Q. and audiometer tests (which measure intelligence and degree of deafness, respectively). The results of these two tests determine the nature of classroom attention.

In the seven classes, the basic tools for rehabilitation are acoustics and lip-reading. And in addition to the regular instruction, each child receives individualized attention from a therapist for one-half hour daily.

Although it’s frequently used elsewhere, sign language is forbidden at Ephpheta. This prohibition reflects the Institute’s aim of training children to communicate with the outside world, instead of preparing them to forever remain in a segregated group of handicapped people.

And in time, with the Sisters’ training and care, and their families’ loving support, the children’s ears are “opened,” and they do learn to speak.

Christ has indeed “done all things well.”

In the town where He was born, His miracles never cease.

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