Dubai - Their world is silent, but not exactly quiet.
Feras and Wael Al Moubayed were born deaf but that hasn’t stopped them from living their dreams.
Born in a Syrian family living in Kuwait, the two brothers have overcome cultural stereotypes as well as practical challenges to find their feet and today, they hope to help other deaf people find theirs.
Looking back, 46-year-old Feras, vividly remembers the day he found out that his younger brother was born deaf.
“I was 12 I remember that this teacher came to me and said, ‘Congratulations, you have another brother who was just born.’ I said, ‘really?’ I was so happy. But then she told me that he, too, was deaf,” he remembers.
The joy quickly turned sour, as Feras began to realise the challenges his little brother would face in life.
His father had to fly all the way to London to help Feras get some much-needed perspective.
“He hit me on the head and asked, ‘What’s your problem? You have a little brother Wael. You will never be alone. You have three brothers. Wael is your best friend, you will be with him all the time. You have to look after him’.”
These are the words that went on to define their relationship. After their father passed away in 1994 Wael joined Feras in London, UK. The two went on to find their own calling, Fares graduating in fashion designing and Wael becoming a certified physiotherapist.
“After going through all the courses, I believed I could do it. It’s not about being deaf. I have a good life, I work hard, I have patience,” Feras said.
It was this spirit that took the two brothers from London back to Syria, where they wanted to educate and empower the deaf population.
“We went to Syria in 2007 but had to leave in 2011 because of the war,” 34-year-old Wael told Gulf News.
The brothers then came to the UAE and have been teaching British Sign Language since.
While the number of deaf people in the UAE are around 2,00 according to a 2015 survey by the UAE Deaf Association, the number become staggering when the entire region is taken into account.
According to 2012 figures from the World Health Organisation, the Middle East and North Africa had 10million adults with disabling hearing loss.
That is a huge part of the community not being catered to by specialised institutes.
Wael spoke about how most people are forced to migrate to another country to receive the necessary training and education.
“However, if I live in the UK, I am away from my child, I am away from my home.”
This is the basic driving force behind the brothers’ efforts to establish better support systems within the UAE.
Finding an interpreter for an important assignment or event can take up to months, for example, and many people within the UAE as well as the Arab World still attach stigma to being deaf.
“I met a man once who asked me how I could speak even though I can’t hear. I told him I went through speech therapy which helped me how to speak. Can you imaging, I found out almost a year later that he had a son who is deaf. I asked him, ‘Why didn’t you ever tell me?’ He just shrugged,” Feras said.
It is this stigma that the two brothers have faced ever since they were children. One word in particular symbolises this attitude: “Haram.”
It’s an Arabic expression that can take on various meanings, from something that is religiously prohibited to something that is sad or upsetting.
But for the two brothers, it often signified just one emotion – pity.
“I would play outside my house and if I spoke, the children would look at me funny. Their parents would come out and realise I can’t hear and would say, ‘haram … haram…’. My father would come out and say: ‘You are haram. My son can’t hear, why is that a problem? All you need to do is talk to him with gestures.’”
The self-belief their father instilled in them has driven the two brothers to achieve as much as possible.
Very few can boast of the achievements the two brothers have. Wael has worked as an actor in the 2006 film, Goya’s Ghost starring Natalie Portman and Javier Bardem and the two brothers brought Bryan Adams to Syria to raise funds for projects that support sign language education.
While their efforts in Syria were abruptly ended because of the political cirsis, the two brothers are far from done.
They hope to start an institute in the UAE that does not just provide a home to the deaf community in the country but the entire Arab World.