The first time I met Matala she was full of joy and smiles, but she was unable to tell me her name. I discovered she was over 40 years old but could not spell her own name.
Matala comes from a family of eight children four deaf and four hearing. When she was little her mother wanted to send her to the local school for the deaf, but she was afraid to go. One of her deaf brothers and her deaf sister wanted to attend school, so her mother allowed her to stay home while the others attended school.
Matala always has a smile on her face even while working. One time I was strolling through Lévèque, the deaf community in Haiti where Matala lives, and she was carrying A 5 gallon bucket of water on her head. As she was walking down the road she saw me up ahead. I pulled out my camera and asked her if I could take a picture, she thought I was going to videotape so she started dancing for me. This beautiful strong woman was not only able to carry a 5 gallon bucket of water on her head, but she was able to dance and laugh and never spell even one drop. I came to find out that was about her 15th trip of bringing water up the road that day as she was part of the construction crew and her job was to bring water to mix the cement.
When we decided to offer adult literacy classes for the deaf, she was one of the first ones to sign up. Her eyes lit up when she sat at the table with a pencil in her hand ready to write. She did not know how to write her name or any letters, but she was ready to learn. As the classes continued she practiced and practiced her letters. On my next visit to Haiti Matala was so proud to show me her notebook of all she had learned including how to spell her name.
As Matala learned more, she began to attend church faithfully. Although she was unable to read the complex French that her bible was written in, she still asked others sitting near her to help her to turn to the page the pastor was teaching on.
One of my favorite things to do with Matala is to take her photo with my phone, then show it to her. Every time she sees herself in the photo, she covers her mouth and giggles loudly. Sometimes she spins around in laughter!!
Because of her loving, infectious joy she was nicknamed “Mama Haiti”.