The sounds of silence

The sounds of silence

A social entrepreneur who gave us a taste of life without sight is back to show us a world of silence

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Andreas Heinecke with Hong Kong students who  took part in his 'Dialogue in Silence' workshop
Andreas Heinecke with Hong Kong students who took part in his 'Dialogue in Silence' workshop
Photo: Nora Tam
After his successful debut of "Dialogue in the Dark" in Hong Kong in February last year, German social entrepreneur Andreas Heinecke was back in town with another workshop last month.

"Dialogue in Silence" is an interactive event where participants take part in a series of activities in complete silence. The idea is to familiarise them with the way deaf people experience the world. Throughout the session participants wear special headphones that let them hear only their heartbeat. Verbal contact is not allowed. They can only use body language and facial gestures to communicate with each other.

"Communication is more than speech. An expression, a body gesture, our emotions - they all play an important part," said Heinecke, a former journalist who set up Dialogue Social Enterprise. "Ninety per cent of our daily communication is non-verbal."

Heinecke has taken "Dialogue in Silence" to eight countries where more than 160,000 people took part in his workshops.

The idea for the project began with a phone call two decades ago, Heinecke said. "Someone called me on behalf of a deaf girl who was asking for some information," he said. "When I met the girl, I was amazed to learn that she could tell where I came from by just reading my lips."

He started working with the hearing-impaired community, which was an eye-opener for him. "It totally changed my perception about them," Heinecke said.

Contrary to what many people think, he added, "deaf people are capable and talented. They don't see themselves as 'disabled.' I think we can learn so much by interacting with them".

Heinecke believes that the only way to change people's perceptions of the world of the blind and the deaf is through direct experience, which is a key element in both his unconventional dialogues. In "Dialogue in the Dark", visitors are led by blind guides through activities in pitch dark spaces. In "Dialogue in Silence", they are led by hearing-impaired trainers to perform tasks without speaking.

Beverley Ng Pik-wah, a human resources manager at the Hospital Authority, was one of the participants in the trial session.

"I was amazed by how the deaf trainers could tell us a story using only gestures," Ng said. "And I didn't think it was possible for us to do the tasks without talking. But we did it! I've never tried so hard to make others understand me."

Another participant was Mak Hoi-wah, an assistant professor at City University of Hong Kong and chairman of the Hong Kong Association of the Deaf. "We don't normally feel what it is like for the [hearing-impaired]," Mak said. "This exercise can help us to get out of our box and use other ways to communicate with others."

This is precisely what Heinecke hopes for the participants. "It is a humbling experience through a reversal of roles," he said. "With a shift of roles between the hearing-abled and disabled, you change your perspective. And when you can change your perspective, life becomes much richer."

'Dialogue in Silence' was a lead workshop at this year's Make a Difference (MaD) Annual Conference last month. The conference inspires young people to make a change. The workshop will be held again next month. Visit www.dialogue-in-the-dark.hk or contact DiD HK Limited for more details.

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