Do you see yourself doing what you are doing now as your life’s work, or are you counting the days till your retirement? Julia tells her story about how she discovered her vocation in life and how she stopped at nothing to pursue her passion!
In The Face Of Life Challenges
Julia married at a very young age, she pursued her studies and got a degree as a French Professor. A couple of years later, she gave birth to baby boy. At one month old, her son caught a virus that left him deaf. As he grew older, Julia and her husband tried to find a school for their son that was adapted for the deaf. They wanted him to get an education and learn how to speak. At the time, nearly forty years ago, there was nothing established in Valparaiso, Chile to support the deaf.
“My husband and I were left on our own to give our son the best education possible.” Although, Julia was a professor, she did not know the first thing about teaching and coaching her own son. “It was the most awful feeling in the world, not being able to teach my own son, worst of all, there was nothing out there to help us get our son an education. My son was able to make humming sounds, I was confident that given the proper tools and techniques, those humming sounds could develop into words. I just could not accept that my son would remain silent for the rest of his life. I was going to sacrifice everything and do whatever it took for him.”
Julia and her husband took their son and set off for France. She pursued her career as a French professor and her husband pursued his practice as a lawyer. There, at least, they had access to conduct research on techniques and trainings for the hearing impaired.
They were determined to self educate themselves on how to teach their son to pronounce words. It was not easy, a deaf person from birth or as an infant, does not have the comprehension that sound exist. They can see people’s lips moving, however, they do not have the notion that their is a sound associated with the movement of the lips. It was through trial and error that they established certain games and events to get their son to understand this notion.
“He loved toy automobiles, we started by trying to get him to say the word auto. No matter what we did, he imitated the motion of our mouth, made a few humming sounds and ran off to play with the toy.”
The research continued, continued and continued with no success. One day, Julia discovered the “miracle” of Anne Sullivan in teaching Helen Keller to speak. She was infatuated and intrigued with Ann’s success in communicating the meaning of words to Helen. She gathered and studied all she could on her techniques and trainings and began practicing with her son.
It was an extremely long process, Julia explained. I learned that before I could start trying to teach him a language, I needed to bring in a certain amount of discipline, empathy and lots of love to make him understand that he was being taught the meaning of sounds. I remember using a party balloon. I blew it up, held it close to his ear and spoke into it. I could see my son responding to this. The vibration of the ballon from my voice made him curious. After several trials of doing this, he finally had the comprehension that when lips move, there is a sound that comes with the movement. It is always an exciting moment for any parent when their child says their first word. The day my son said his first word, a-u-t-o, it was a major breakthrough for my husband and I. I felt my heart beating so fast and hard, I thought it was going to burst out with joy! As I continued teaching my son, I never pampered him nor felt sorry for him. It would have only spoiled him and would have made it extremely difficult to teach him if he would throw tantrums. He was different than everyone, but, that did not mean that things had to be done for him. He also learned that he had a responsibility in dedicating himself, no one would give him special treatment because he was deaf. It was not anybody’s responsibility to accommodate him for his handicap. He had to respect people and accept that the handicap was his. By working and putting in the effort, he could do everything just like everyone else. Nothing in life is impossible, but, if you start feeling sorry for yourself and expect special attention from others, you will never succeed in achieving any goal.
After years of working with him, and finally finding schools across South America that could further develop his education, he learned how to speak and read lips. He was able to carry out a “normal” conversation despite his disability.
Life As A Vocation-Accept No Limitations
My son went on to go to university and get a degree in gastronomy. Today, he is married, has two healthy children and is pursing his career working for the marines in gastronomy. For my husband and I, it did not end when he learned how to communicate and follow his dream. We had a mission; to give to others all the knowledge we had gained throughout our journey of teaching our son.
Our son was lucky to have parents who were able to go the extra mile and fight a hard battle against society to be able to lead a “normal” life. But, what about all the others? Julia and her husband thought about the situation in Valparaiso and could not ignore it. What about all the other kids whose parents are not in a financial situation to help them? Life will give you many challenges, in confronting them, you are given a strength for a higher purpose.
Julia and her husband made their way back to Valparaiso, their purpose? To open an institute for people to acquire the skills and techniques to teach the deaf. They started by trying to get support from the government. They were refused! The government did not provide any kind of support for special institutes for the disabled. However, they would not refuse if they wanted to start it as a “private” institute. So, they decided to get a loan. Because the government refused to support them, the banks were extremely skeptical that such a “private” institute would be successful. Julia and her husband were turned down by all the banks.
Once again, we were faced with having to confront challenges. Giving up was NOT an option. When you have a passion, when you want something bad enough, nothing and no one will stand in your way. You will find a way to make it happen. My husband and I had the passion to give these kids an opportunity to follow their dream. Just because “others” did not believe it could work, didn’t mean that we had to remain stagnant. We were willing to take risks to make it happen. We sold most of our properties and were able to finally build our private institute.
Helen Keller has been an inspiration to my husband and I. She gave us hope that even though our son had a disability, he could go on to have a successful life. Helen Keller dedicated her life to helping people, proving to the world that anyone is able to achieve their dreams, even those with disabilities.
In her memory, The “Instituto Professional Helen Keller” officially opened in 1989. They started with a total of ten students that they were able to get from going door to door soliciting the opening of the institute. It is still very successfully today, twenty-three years later with twenty-five teachers and a total of 150 students. Julia no longer needs to go door to door to get students. Due to it’s success, the ministry of education approached Julia with an opportunity of turning the institute into a public university. Anyone would have jumped at this, it was a chance in a lifetime! Julia and her husband turned the offer down.
When we build this institute, our goal was not to start a business to make more money. It was to provide an opportunity for deaf children to get the proper education and pursue their passion. We wanted to build an institute where we taught others to carry on our vocation. Teaching the hearing impaired can be very demanding, only if you have the passion and a sense of vocation to do good for others, will it be worthwhile. We did not want to turn it into a building where people go to study and compete against each other to get a job for security. I require one qualification before accepting to admit a student; That it is their vocation in life, not an occupation. When you have a vocation, you aim only to be of value. When you have an occupation, you aim only for success. I have been doing this for twenty-three years, people always ask me, “ why are you still working? After all these years of being a French teacher and teaching in this institute, you could retire and enjoy life.” My reply is always: I am enjoying life, this is my passion, my meaning in life, it is not a job!
My husband passed away three years ago, and I will stay here doing this till the end, God has given me a blessing with my son, through him, I was given my path to follow. I want this institute to keep going when I am gone, just the way it is. It is important that I continue to reinforce this value to everyone that joins. There is no competition among the students here, everyone is valued for their own uniqueness. A few months ago, for the first time in twenty-three years, the ministry of education came to the institute to conduct an inspection. They checked everything, programs, structures, cleanliness and the contracts signed by the students. They questioned the fact that on some of the contracts, the students had not all paid the same price for their courses. This was a problem for them because one of their strict requirements is that the institute has the same fee for all programs.” Julia, showed them her books and proved that she indeed charged the same price for all her programs. She went on to explain how not all the people who come to register at the institute has that amount of money.
I have a responsibility to guide someone in achieving their meaning in life, I have never refused someone who has shown me that this is their true passion. I ask them what amount they are able to afford, and accept it. For every person that I have signed in for free, God has given me two people who could afford the full amount. I feel his presence and know that I am being taken care of, however, I need to care for others.
“A candle is lit in the middle of the room everyday, I call it the Candle Of Love. Everyone who registers here, does it for the Love of others, the light of the candle represents God’s presence, it will always guide us.”
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