After yesterday’s blog post about Julie Turkewitz’s article inspiring generosity and donations for Vladimir’s hearing aid, here’s the life-changing article:
He thought he was the only one.
There were no other deaf people in Cuyantepeque, El Salvador, the isolated farming village where Vladimir Gongora, 17, lived for most of his life. Nestled between mountains, the town also had no health center and, until recently, no road access for cars.
For Vladimir, there was also no school: Because he could not hear or speak, teachers shut him out, his family said.
For years he lingered by the school doors at recess, waiting for other children to exit, waiting for playmates. He communicated only with his two sisters and grandparents, using hand signals they had invented.
No one informed him that other deaf people existed.
And so in 1997, Vladimir’s father, Jose Gongora, left for the United States. First, he aimed simply to make money for his growing family. But as he learned more of his son’s seclusion, a new, unshakable goal emerged: He would bring Vladimir to New York, where his son could get help.
“He didn’t hear, he didn’t speak,” Mr. Gongora said, speaking in Spanish. “But the understanding was there. I thought: ‘He wants to be something. Something — yes.’ ”
Since immigrating, Mr. Gongora has risen at 5:30 a.m. to work for a landscaping company, spending tens of thousands of hours laying sprinklers and hanging Christmas decorations. In 2003, he brought his wife, Dolores, to New York.
And then in May, after more than a decade away from his father, Vladimir walked through the doors of the family’s apartment in Flushing, Queens, and into the arms of Mr. Gongora.
Since then, Vladimir’s world has exploded into an ever-expanding kaleidoscope of communication. In October, he began attending the Lexington School for the Deaf in Jackson Heights, Queens, which often helps hearing-impaired children from outside the United States. There, he is learning American Sign Language. He has begun to read and write. He has made other hearing-impaired friends.
And, for the first time, Vladimir has met deaf people with professions and families of their own.
“He’s signing more, with the expectation that people are going to understand him,” said Julia Schafer, a caseworker at Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New York who works closely with the family.
When Vladimir began school, his family realized that to practice new words, he would need an inexpensive computer. Through Catholic Charities, one of the agencies supported by The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund, Ms. Schafer helped the family apply for a $440 grant from the fund, and the Gongoras bought a laptop.
On a recent Tuesday, Vladimir opened the laptop to reveal a program designed to teach sign language. His father stood by, and the two began discussing Vladimir’s trajectory. They have adopted a hand language that is uniquely theirs. Their arms began to fly. At school, “there are so many children that don’t speak, just like him,” Mr. Gongora said. “He felt like he had company.”
And after knocking on the doors of the hearing community for so many years, Vladimir has finally found an opening. A test recently revealed that he has 30 percent hearing in one ear, and the Lexington School lent him a hearing aid.
But at the end of each day, he must leave the device behind.
It opens up the possibility that Vladimir could begin to speak. Mr. Gongora wants desperately to buy one for his son, but he has no idea when he will be able to raise the $1,500 needed for the purchase.
His monthly earnings at the landscaping company, typically $2,400, disappear quickly once the $1,550-a-month rent and other bills are paid and food is bought for Vladimir, his mother and his 2-year-old sister. Anything extra goes back to El Salvador, where Mr. Gongora and his wife have two teenage daughters.
“He asks me, ‘¿Cuándo?’ ” Mr. Gongora said. “ ‘When are we going to be able to buy one?’ ”
For now, that goal is out of reach. “He says he wants to work here,” said Mr. Gongora, who never went to school, “and later get a car. He dreams a lot, right?
“ ‘Everything in time,’ I tell him. ‘Step by step.’ ”