Linfield student reaches out to deaf community in the Bahamas

The sight of communicative hands in motion filled Linfield College senior Erika Helm-Buckman with comfort as she visited The Center for the Deaf during her 2012 January Term class in the Bahamas.

The course, Island Health Care: Type 2 Diabetes in the Bahamas, was taught by Janet Peterson, associate professor of health and human performance, and Jay Swenberger, diabetes educator and adjunct professor. Twelve students were in the Bahamas to research and educate the Bahamian community through the lens of type 2 diabetes. Linfield students compared the health care delivery on the main island of Nassau to the family island, Eleuthera. They organized and delivered presentations for community groups and elementary through high school students on South Eleuthera on diabetes prevention and disease management.

For senior Helm-Buckman, an exercise science major, the class was also an opportunity to study the deaf culture in the Bahamas. Growing up with deaf parents, Helm-Buckman found a special connection to the topic.

“The deaf culture is similar to the Bahamian culture; it’s very straight forward so it felt more comfortable,” said Helm-Buckman. “Our connections through the deaf culture went beyond national borders eliminating barriers.”

Her academic interest in the deaf culture of the Bahamas culminated in a presentation on diabetes, which Helm-Buckman delivered in American Sign Language at The Center for the Deaf in Nassau.

“It’s a unique opportunity for a deaf audience to have a guest speaker whose first language is sign language. I wanted to give them that experience,” said Helm-Buckman.

According to Peterson, the Deaf Center was not originally on the class itinerary, but it was added to give students insight into the deaf culture.

“The minute Erika stepped off the bus, she was surrounded by children who wanted to communicate with her,” Peterson said. “A couple of the other students also practiced their sign-language with the students. The cool thing was that Erika approached us to inquire about going back and presenting about type 2 diabetes in ASL. She wanted to provide these students with the same opportunities as they are at the same risk for developing type 2 diabetes.”

Helm-Buckman was among 130 students participating in on-site study programs through Linfield College’s January Term, a four-week period of concentrated study in which students and faculty focus their time and attention on a single course. Courses are available on campus or at off-campus locations in this country or abroad. The program is designed to help develop global awareness and insights into major issues of the times as well as broaden understanding of American society. Eleven off-campus courses were offered this year and included travel to Costa Rica, China, Singapore, India, Trinidad and Tobago, Spain, Germany and the U.K.

For more information, visit the class blog at


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