Deaf Altrincham resident Emma Groves, 10, is benefitting from a pioneering pen friend scheme for deaf young people, devised by the National Deaf Children’s Society.
She joined the Pen Pals Project because she wanted to make friends with other deaf children who were going through similar experiences. When the round finished, she and her pen pal decided to carry on exchanging messages because they were having so much fun.
Emma enjoys reading and writing and wants to become a writer when she is older, so she jumped at the opportunity to write to her new friend. She was very excited to let her pen pal know about her school, her likes and dislikes, and how she had taken part in after-school sport activities with her deaf friends.
Having a pen pal was especially useful because Emma was concerned about what to expect at high school. Her pen pal, who already attends high school, was able to reassure her that it was less stressful than she might have imagined.
Pen Pals has enabled more than 200 deaf children to create new friendships, feel less isolated and view their deafness with more positivity. It also helps them develop their communication skills.
The scheme is free of charge and open to deaf children and young people between 6 and 18. Applicants are matched with another young person of a similar age, interests and communication preference, such as British Sign Language (BSL), Signed Supported English or speech.
They then email letters or record videos in BSL for each other, which are fully moderated by the charity. Many of the participants also like to handwrite messages or draw pictures, which they then photograph and email.
The charity devised the Pen Pals Project as a response to the isolation deaf young people were experiencing during lockdown, but there was such demand for the scheme that it’s carried on.
Emma has been deaf from birth and uses a hearing aid. She lives in Altrincham with her parents Andreina and Mike and brother Sammie, 7.
Emma’s mum, Andreina Carrillo, said:
“Emma loves meeting new people and this project was an opportunity for her to connect with someone facing similar challenges. She enthusiastically replied to every message and at the end of the project she asked for the communication with her pen pal to continue.
“Emma loved receiving the emails. She would spend ages answering and making sure her letter was nice and neat. I often had to help her edit the emails as they were so long.”
“My Teacher of Deaf suggested I might like to take part. She knows I like reading and writing and I’m always happy to meet other people.
“It was amazing because the letters were about things we love doing, and we found out the subjects we like and don’t like at school, and how we both like video games.
“Having a pen pal makes me feel very happy. I carried on with her because I really like making new friends, and hopefully one day we can meet in person.”
Amy New, who runs the National Deaf Children’s Society’s Pen Pal Project, said:
“Deaf children can go through their entire childhood without ever meeting another deaf child and that can be really isolating. Like any child, it’s vital that they can share experiences and feelings with someone who really understands.
“We wanted to do something about that, so we came up with Pen Pals. It’s really taken off and deaf children are already telling us they feel more connected and more positive about their deafness. Many, like Emma and her pen pal, want to carry on even after the round’s finished.
“It’s become a really important service for lots of deaf children and it’s made a real difference. We’ll provide it for as long as they need it.”