Because two CHOP employees turned their compassion into action, a Bhutanese refugee family has the opportunity for a full life.

After years in a Nepalese refugee camp, the Gurung family resettled in Philadelphia. Both parents are deaf; knew only a little Nepalese, no English and no sign language; and did not read or write in any language. Their children, ages 13, 8 and 6, can hear; spoke some Bhutanese, some Nepalese and limited English; and had zero sign language skills. The result: The parents could not communicate with their children.

“The Gurungs were wholly dependent on extended family members in Philadelphia for everything,” says Louise Montoya, LPC, ACS, CSC, a child and family therapist in the Center for Childhood Communication at CHOP, who met one child at an office visit. “And, because of Bhutanese cultural norms, their relatives did not think the parents were capable of parenting their children, getting a job or being part of the community. It was a difficult situation. My heart went out to them.”

Gaining language — and independence

Montoya and the children’s primary care pediatrician, Katherine Yun, MD, applied for a CHOP Cares Community Grant to fund American Sign Language (ASL) tutoring for the whole family, creating a language bridge that hadn’t existed before. The parents acquired independence for the first time and gained tools to advocate for themselves and their children in all sorts of settings: healthcare, school and community.

Montoya coordinated with community partners at the Deaf Hearing Communication Centre and Deaf CAN! to arrange the tutoring sessions. Over a year, tutors held 34 home sessions and nine field trips so the family could learn basics like how to navigate public transportation and about their rights as deaf individuals.

“Through this project, we were able to provide a better life for this whole family,” Montoya says.

Using ASL, the parents have found work, are involved in their kids’ school and health decisions, and — just as importantly — can tell their children: “I love you.”

— Zan Hale