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Fr. Mike Donahue, a La Salette
Alumnus, now a priest ministering
in the Diocese of Tarija,
Bolivia with the handicapped. 

Editor: For many years, Fr. Mike Donahue served as a La Salette Missionary. While ministering in Bolivia, he decided to join the Diocese of Tarija, in the southernmost area of that country. His faith and desire to help handicapped persons led him to become involved with handicapped and special needs’ children in Bolivia. He has been active, at local and national levels, in various service projects for handicapped persons, has served as President of Friends of Handicapped Children of Tarija for many years and has received many awards for his much-needed ministry.

It's Sunday and the parishioners of the Chapel of La Loma de San Juan are prepared to witness an unusual interpretation of songs using sign language. After the sermon, Father Michael Donahue, along with the four people who are part of the group, “SAMMY”, interpret one or two songs using sign language. They all seem to hear the song coming from the sound system. Their rhythm and gestures are coordinated.

SAMMY was founded by Susana Huaylla, Deysi Miranda and Ana Patiño, who have a hearing impairment. They were joined by Yuli Miguel Garnica and Father Donahue. Some of the group have problems moving their legs but these difficulties did not prevent them from interpreting the songs and dances using signs.

 

The idea of singing through signs, says Fr. Mike, came in 2011, at a social gathering where people who were deaf began singing by using gestures. Then the idea arose to form a group to enliven their meetings. When the group was founded, it used the first letters of each name – formed by Susana, Ana, Mariana Mercy, Michael and Yuli – to identify the group. One of them, Mariana, is no longer in the group. They not only perform in churches but also at other places and events.

SAMMY was first introduced to the public at Christmas a few years ago, accompanied by a choir of 150 children who joyfully sang during the Daily Mass in the chapel of La Loma de San Juan. The second presentation was in early 2012 in the Bolivar Park, where the children's choir was available.

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Chapel of La Loma de San
Juan (St. John the Evangelist)
in Tijara, Bolivia, built in 1578 by
the Dominicans, 
was the first chapel
in Tarija 
dedicated to St. John the
Evangelist

Some songs featuring the group are translated from English or French, the Spanish, by Yuli Miguel and his father. Listeners, as Fr. Mike says, have difficulty learning the signs for these songs. "The songs in another language are only a problem for listeners. It’s no problem for the deaf because they watch very well.”

Susana who perfected her speech by age 20 and is now a teacher, shares her knowledge in the Tarija area. Both public and private institutions can ask for the service of their group.

While Yuli at first found it difficult to stand in front of an audience to “sing” the songs in sign, she mentioned that "At first, for the presentation in the Bolivar Park, I was very nervous. But when I began singing, I did not notice any mistakes and I just concentrated on what I was doing.” She added: “It was a good experience for me. I do not have a good singing voice, but I learned that I can also sing with my hands."

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Tijara, Bolivia, as seen from the
viewpoint of Loma de San Juan.

Yuli recalls that days after the operation on her legs, when she came to the chapel in a wheelchair. At the time of the show, many of her friends and family were surprised when they saw her stand without any support. Seeing her finally stand by herself brought tears to the eyes of the audience.