Ave Maria, it’s a girl!
Inspirations: Toronto: Fiona Fonti’s foray into faith
Fiona Fonti and Nathan Zizza
By Marilyn Kerjean
Fiona Fonti was nervous about going to World Youth Day as one of the Sydney pilgrims. But, as with everything else she tackles, she wasn’t going to let it dampen her enthusiasm.
The 20-year-old is being sponsored by the Ephpheta Centre in Homebush because she is its youth worker, and as a young person with a profound hearing impairment.
“I don’t know what to expect, I’m a bit nervous,” she said.
“I’ve never been overseas before, but I also don’t know if I’m going to be able to follow everything that’s going on.
“We know that there is going to be a meeting for about 200 deaf people there from around the world but they will be using American Sign Language (ASL) and we don’t really know that.*
“But it will be a chance to explore my faith and learn more about God as well as meet up with other deaf Catholics from around the world.”
Fiona hopes on her return she can use her World Youth Day experience to encourage other young deaf and hearing impaired Catholics to become more involved in the Church.
Fiona has only been the Ephpheta Centre’s youth worker since March, but she has been involved with the centre’s youth activities since she was at school.
She is now in her first year of Occupational Therapy at the University of Sydney.
This year she has gone into mainstream schools to meet hearing deaf and hearing impaired students and their specialist teachers.
She talks from her experience of being the first deaf person in her hearing school (Marist Sisters at Woolwich) as well as her university life.
“Deaf people in Catholic schools often don’t know any other young deaf people,” says Fiona.
“Also deaf people can tend to be hesitant and shy when it comes to social activities.”
So she organises events to try to get young people in touch with each other. These have included a picnic day, a disco night, and regular trips to captioned screenings of current movies.
Plans for future events include the second annual fund-raising ball and a fashion parade.
Fiona also hopes to start faith discussion nights, where a guest speaker will be invited to talk about the Church’s views on issues like stem cell research and euthanasia.
She would love to see sign language offered as an elective in schools along with other languages as it would make people with unimpaired hearing more aware of the difficulties faced by deaf people.
“I was the first deaf person to go my school,” she says.
“It’s hard for people to know how difficult that is. For example, if they see you doing well at school they think you don’t need extra help.”
Fiona says that a hearing aid or a cochlear implant doesn’t enable a deaf person to hear the same as a hearing person.
She copes well with the aid of lip reading but finds it hard to hear people talking in a group situation.
Last year, she helped to organise a fundraising ball with the then youth worker, Nicole Hellyer, and two other young people, Nathan Zizza and Vinnie Pezzimenti.
Nathan, 22, a second-year Bachelor of Health Science student at the University of Western Sydney, says the success of the ball – it raised $3000 for activities for Catholic deaf youth – was a great confidence boost.
He is also being sponsored to World Youth Day by the Ephpheta Centre.
Nathan and Fiona met through the centre’s CHIPS (Catholic Hearing Impaired Peer Support) days run throughout the year for youth.
Going to World Youth Day was “a bit nerve-racking” because “we don’t know what to expect”, Nathan said.
“But we’ve spoken to other people who have gone and they reckon that when we get back it’ll change our lives, so it’s quite interesting to see where it’s going to lead us.”
The second annual Hearing Impaired and Deaf Ball – a masquerade ball – will be at the Concord Function Centre on Saturday, August 31. Tickets are $60. Proceeds will go towards youth initiatives organised by the Ephpheta Youth Group. Tel 9764 4711, TTY (teletypewriter) 9764 4520, Fax 9764 4722, email Ephpheta@bigpond.com