Members of Oman’s deaf community taking part in the huge clean-up operation after Cyclone Shaheen say they have more to offer despite being kept out of the job market by discrimination.
“We are here to prove that we are aware of the suffering of thousands of people and we can help too,” Azza Al Mabsali, an official sign language interpreter for Muscat’s Al Amal Club for the Deaf, told The National.
Cyclone Shaheen killed 12 people in Oman as well as two fishermen in Iran. Widespread damage from the storm forced more than 5,000 people into temporary accommodation set up by the government.
Most of the damage is in Al Batinah region, in the towns of Al Musannah, Suwaiq, Saham, Khaburah and Sohar, which were hit by winds of 110 kilometres per hour and 12-metre-high waves.
Ms Mabsali, who is deaf and interprets by lip reading, said the clean-up operation was an opportunity to promote equal opportunities in workplaces.
“If we can be here to get our hands and feet dirty and work as hard as anybody else, by working together with people, then we can be competent in workplaces if we get the opportunities,” she said.
Oman’s labour laws say that people with disabilities must make up a minimum of two per cent of the workforce of public and private organisations, but the deaf community says finding jobs is often challenging.
There are no statistics available in Oman to show how many people with disabilities are employed.
Salim Al Shidhani, from Khaburah, one of the towns most affected by the floods, had his car destroyed in the rain and part of his kitchen wall collapsed.
He paid tribute to those who turned out to help.
“We have all kinds of people helping us, but the deaf community is standing out above the rest with their empathy, responsiveness and care as they work with us to clear this huge mess,” he said.
“It amazes me to know that not many of them who turn up here have regular jobs. Why? I just don’t understand.”
Shabib Al Juma’a, one of the volunteers at Khaburah, also praised the deaf community.
“They are amazing and work hard ... If they give victims of this storm a chance to live in dignity again, the society needs to give deaf people a chance and employ them like everybody else,” Mr Al Juma’a said.
“I am still looking for a job four years after I completed my secondary school education. My colleagues with no hearing disabilities all work but I am still looking for a company who can offer me a job,” hard of hearing job seeker Shamsa Al Shehi, 22, told The National.
Al Amal Club for the Deaf is part of the Deaf Oman Sports Committee registered with the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports.
It has a social club that provides sign language services such as translations. It is fully equipped with sport facilities and arranged trips abroad for cultural exchanges with international deaf communities.
“It is a challenge to get the private companies employing the deaf people in spite of our numerous pleas to them. We have a lot of them in the government organisations but it is the private sector that let them down,” a spokesman from the club said.