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By Christiane Kassab
I was born hearing and started losing my hearing at 14.
I’d never been sick, ever. The tumours I had were genetic, but my mum didn’t have it. My dad didn’t have it. Something must have happened, we don’t know what. For some reason I was given a genetic health problem.
At my first surgery at 14 we removed the tumour from my left ear – from the left part of my brain – and that left me without hearing completely. At that point I started learning Auslan. I was sitting in my surgeon’s office when I was first diagnosed with the news. And I said, “Wait, I’m going to be deaf? What do I do?” He said, “Learn Auslan.” I was 14. I had no idea what it meant. I had never met a deaf person. I had never taken a day off sick, of school. Never been sick a day.
When I first started losing my hearing the first thing my surgeon told me to do was learn Auslan. And I am so grateful for his advice.
I found the Ephpheta Centre when I was sixteen. It was on a school excursion because I was at a Catholic high school. Part of our day out was to visit organisations that supported deaf and hard of hearing students at school. I came to the Ephpheta Centre. I think this was the first deaf organisation that I ever visited.
After I finished school I went to university and undertook a social work degree. Then about three and a half years ago I answered an advertisement for a position at the Ephpheta Centre.
As a journey, and as a deaf person, you learn very quickly that being deaf is not just about the physical aspect of losing your hearing or being deaf, or not having the ability to hear. It’s about culture, community, family. Finding that identity.
It becomes a part of your identity – whether you’re born with it or learn it later in life. Being deaf is not just that you can’t hear – it’s part of it of course, because physically I cannot hear, but it’s also a culture, it’s community.
Having access to communication, having access to language, having access to Auslan, that’s what makes me feel alive. Waking up every day and being excited to come to work. That’s what keeps me alive.
Knowing I have access to a wonderful community and it’s not just a job here, it’s not just nine to five. No, that’s not how I see my work. It’s what gets me out of bed and what we do. The passion we do it with.
It’s just having that access to a culture and community. Of course, there were, when you’re going through the process of losing your hearing, it’s emotionally so deep and can be quite dark. But me, as a person, I choose to focus on the positive aspect of what I was given and what I was.
The Ephpheta Centre is like a second home. I always say it’s like my second home.
To donate to the Parramatta Catholic Foundation Bishop’s Lenten Appeal, visit yourcatholicfoundation.org.au/appeal.