French sign language studies graduate Juliette Comte is behind an initiative to teach archery to deaf schoolchildren at a specialist school in the West African country of Benin. The 21-year-old left home in France on 10 September, classes at the Alga school in Cotonou started six days later, and Juliette will remain in Benin for three months.
“This project is very important for me because it’s about promoting the deaf community,” she said. “The richness of their culture, their commitment, their language and the battles they fight every day.”
Juliette knew about an association that supported a school for the deaf in Benin. She came up with the ‘Arc-en-Signes’ – or ‘Archery in signs’ – project as a way of combining her passions for sign language, travel, education and sport.
But before any arrows could be shot by the school children, Juliette had to build a shooting range, construct targets and gather equipment.
“These kids do not know the sport of archery but they will fall under its charm, I’m sure,” she said.
The deaf school of Alga is bilingual for both deaf children and their siblings and teaches West African sign language alongside French. It is managed solely by deaf professionals who teach students a vocational skill that sees them move directly into employment.
A hearing person who signs in French, Juliette works as a communications interface in France. She accompanies deaf children in classes and translates content.
Juliette started archery with her father in Martinique in 2012. Her father is now president of the World Archery Americas recognised federation that organises archery across the Carribean island.
‘Arc-en-Signes’ is supported by Solidarité-Sourds-Benin – an association supporting deaf people in Benin – and the national archery federations of France and Benin. The French federation loaned the equipment for the project.