Hearing Their Need

By Nguyen, Cuong | The World and I, May 2009 | Go to article overview

Hearing Their Need


Nguyen, Cuong, The World and I


"He who saves one life, it's as if he saves the world." This is a Jewish saying beloved by Vivian Grabau, an on-call freelance sign language interpreter with 28 years of experience. "It means every life is valuable," said Vivian. "Every life really is worth saving."

The saying comes to mind when Vivian thinks about the woman named Maxine Strobridg. Maxine is a hearing missionary who first started the Ephphatha deaf orphanage for Korean children. Maxine rescued abandoned deaf babies in Korea-children discarded because they were considered not born perfect--and took care of them at Ephphatha.

Many of these deaf children have since been adopted by parents from all over the world, and have grown up to have healthy and beautiful lives. Thousands have now been saved because of the work Maxine started. Now the Ephphatha orphanage is also active in other countries such as Vietnam and Hong Kong. In Vivian's mind, if one life is like saving the world, the sheer scope of the thousands of lives that Maxine has saved, is utterly invaluable in measure.

For 23 years, Vivian has been with the Deaf Ministry at Praise Tabernacle Church in Mays Landing. The Deaf Ministry sends money that they collect every year to help the Korean deaf orphanage Maxine had started. "I believe deaf should help deaf," said Vivian. "Our heart is always with the deaf."

Vivian, now over 65 years old, is not just an active member of the Deaf Ministry. She has studied sign language and interpretation since 1980. Since then she has become a highly skilled and very personable professional in the dynamic field of sign language interpreting.

She has interpreted for students and teachers at Gallaudet Deaf University in Washington D.C, Stockton College and several New Jersey colleges including Rowan University, Atlantic Cape, Camden and Gloucester County College. Whether they are deaf or hard of hearing, it is required by law that they be supplied an interpreter for free if they so choose, whether it be a school, doctor's office, lawyer's office, or a police station.

Much of Vivian's passion goes into teaching. She teaches a basic sign language night class twice a year for six weeks at Oakcrest High School in May's Landing, New Jersey. Despite being a paid class, she invites everyone to come who is enthusiastic about learning--whether they be friends or past students. For friends who want to go the extra mile in their sign language education, Vivian also gives private lessons at her own home for advanced interpreting.

Many of Vivian's students become not just sign language interpreters themselves, but life-long friends. Sharon became one of Vivian's night class students in 2004 when she found out her new-born baby was in danger of becoming deaf, or hard-of-hearing at best. Despite her tears and broken heart, she decided to do her best and make sure her baby got the best care from her. "Molly was 8 weeks old," Sharon said. "The doctor said she had spinal meningitis. I had a desire -I wanted to learn how to sign for my child."

Much to Sharon's relief, her child Molly did not become deaf and grew up with perfect hearing. But because of the love and support her sign language teacher Vivian had given her, Sharon continued to take private lessons from Vivian. Their common desire to learn sign language and interpret for the deaf had made the two best friends for five years. "Vivian," Sharon said, "is the most thoughtful, kind, giving, loving person I've ever known."

"She's generous to a fault," Sharon adds, laughing. "She will really do anything for anyone. Each and every day, if not with words, but by giving, writing, phoning, talking to me in person--with my kids. She is the most thoughtful, kind, giving and loving person I've ever known."

Sharon continues taking private lessons with Vivian for no charge. She also continues going to Vivian's sign language night class at Oakcrest as an invited guest to strengthen her basics and be among friends. …

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