A theatre competition is not something one hasn’t heard of before in Pakistan but one that opened its doors to people with hearing impairment was indeed one of a kind. The competition took place last weekend at IBA (city campus) in Karachi and saw deaf people of different age groups performing onstage to a packed audience that mostly comprised the deaf. The initiative, called ‘Ishara: Lafzon Se Aagay’, was led by ConnectHear, a social entrepreneurial startup, in collaboration with I Am Karachi that is always at the forefront when it comes to socio-cultural activities in the city.
With Sadaf Amin (MD) and Azima Dhanjee (CEO) at the forefront, ConnectHear came into being with the aim to bridge the communication gap between deaf people and the community at large. They have been working to set up a sign language interpretation system and connect sign language interpreters to the deaf and mute individuals or organizations who cater them. Besides that, they are developing an application to convert audio to sign language, using Pakistan Sign Language (PSL) to make the application convenient enough to be used in Pakistan. Some of the services they currently provide include video interpretation, in-person interpretation and audio-to-sign language.
Coming back to their latest effort in this direction, ‘Ishara: Lafzon Se Aagay’ allowed various deaf groups to showcase their talent via short theatrical acts as part of the competition. Three judges for the evening included comedians Faiza Saleem, Shehzad Ghias, and Kulsoom Aftab, who shared their verdict at the end of the event. Thespian Akbar Islam was chief guest for the event while rapper-comedian Ali Gul Pir also made a brief appearance and distributed certificates among winners.
Speaking of the initiative and being a part of the judges’ panel, Faiza noted, “I didn’t really realize before coming here that the deaf community is also a very important segment of our society and they have the potential to do various things. They have inspired me today.” Shehzad Ghias announced that if any disabled person was willing to do comedy, he and Faiza would welcome them with open arms.
The acts performed onstage during the competition highlighted multiple social and cultural issues such as gender discrimination, challenges faced by deaf individuals in society and water shortage aside from cultural dance, mime, shadow and comedy acts.
The entire event was translated by Usama, who conveyed the thoughts of speakers through sign language for the deaf in the audience. The ones on stage as well as those in the audience couldn’t speak but their actions spoke louder than words. They were so comfortable in conveying their thoughts to each other (as well as to the audience) that one would find hard to communicate even with words. They looked happy and content despite their disability and taught one to accept their weaknesses and move on in life.
Working with the aim to create a more inclusive society for the deaf community in Pakistan, ConnectHear hopes to make a difference. Presently, it provides news interpreted in sign language on a daily basis on their Facebook page and the videos have garnered very good response so far.
“All around the world deaf artists are a part of TV shows, movies as well as theatre and today, for the first time, we’re trying to create a platform for the deaf in Pakistan,” Azima Dhanjee, CEO ConnectHear shared at the event. “With Ishara, we wished to provide a platform to showcase deaf talent. It’s 2018 and we have to realize that the deaf have equal skills, equal talent and we have to enable their qualification at national and international levels. We need to realize that five per cent of our population is being neglected because of this difference.”