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October 21, 2002

Widower on quest to aid deaf school

From: Cherry Hill Courier Post, NJ
Oct. 21, 2002

Courier-Post Staff

When Victor Collazo lost the love of his life, he had two options: wallow in grief or focus his energy on a greater good.

His wife, Naureen, 24, was Pakistani and deaf, raised in a culture where disabilities bring scorn and ridicule, he said. She died in June of heart failure stemming from an irregular heartbeat she had since birth.

Since her death the Clementon man has embarked on a mission to raise supplies for the school she attended in Pakistan. The school, which Naureen attended for seven years before moving to the United States for college, lacks everything, from pens and paper to crayons and rulers, he said.

"Basically, the deaf community in Pakistan is shunned," Collazo said. "The deaf and hard of hearing are seen as second class, so funding for them is almost nonexistent."

A program specialist in the deaf and hard of hearing program at Camden County College in Gloucester Township, Collazo, an American who has complete hearing, met his wife during a field trip to Gallaudet University, an institution for the deaf in Washington.

He said Naureen's years at the National School for the Deaf in Satellite Town, Pakistan, were so difficult that the couple planned to help support the school even before her death.

Collazo said the school, which he's visited several times, is a place where state-of-the-art means blackboard and chalk, but even chalk is in short supply.

He said students have heard of computers but most have never even seen one.

"It's like 60 to 70 years behind any deaf school here," he said.

Collazo is building a Web site about his efforts to raise school supplies and recently wrote an article for the CCC student newspaper to rally support.

Mohammad Rashiduzzaman, an associate professor of political science at Rowan University in Glassboro, grew up in what was East Pakistan, but is now Bangladesh, and said bias against people with disabilities is still prevalent.

However, he said social status makes a tremendous difference in the way people live, especially the disabled.

"If you are born into a poor family you could end up begging for your livelihood," he said. "But if you are born into a family that is reasonably well to do, they may try to rehabilitate you in some way."

He said a former colleague at the University of Dhaka in the capital of Bangladesh neither hears nor speaks but lives reasonably well. He comes from a professional family and his father was the president of the university.

"The social handicaps didn't really touch him," said Rashiduzzaman, who said the man married a woman with complete hearing and leads an association to fight for the rights of the deaf.

Collazo, 29, said he has visited Pakistan five times, most recently in September to return some of his wife's belongings to her family. He said Pakistanis, whom the U.S. government said have ties to terrorism, are friendly to him but he tries not to stand out like a foreigner.

"When you look at CNN you say, `Oh my God, I will never go to Pakistan,'" he said. "But when you go they treat you with such respect. Of course, I don't go out in crowds and yell, `Hey, look at me, I'm an American.'"

Collazo said U.S. government aid to Pakistani institutions is nearly impossible to find but he hopes the American people will help support a cause he deeply believes in.

"This is a community I fell in love with," he said. " This isn't just a one-year thing. As long as there is breath in my lungs I am going to raise supplies."

Copyright 2002 Courier-Post.