Our History

Romy and Jackie, the women who started the School for the Deaf, met a young mother who needed her son to have a chance at a better life. The mother was deaf, but one of her sons was not. She asked if Romy and Jackie would find him a home in Canada. And they did. Luis Johnston arrived in Canada on July 2nd, 1986. Romy and Jackie stayed connected with Luis and served the roles of “grandmothers and tutors”.

His gratitude for the opportunities he was given caused him to reach out to the School for Special Children and provide us with some lovely photos and documents of the early years.

Thank you, Luis.

It was supposed to be an easy life of retirement under the Mexican sun with paint brushes and easels for former Victoria teacher, Jackie Hartley and retired nurse Roma Jones. Instead, retirement turned into four years of organizing, buying, and building a school for deaf children in the village of Jocotepec, 70 kilometers south of Guadalajara. Today, the Lakeside School for the Deaf is operated out of a former chicken coop for about 30 deaf children from ages three to 20.

“When we go to Mexico,” Hartley, 67, recalled in an interview in her Victoria apartment, ‘I kept meeting this little boy with his nice smile. He was so helpful, but I was told he wasn’t any good because he was deaf and dumb.’.
Hartley discovered his sister was also deaf and before long Jones, 64, and Hartley were putting together classes with deaf children from the village of 4,000. That was in 1982.

They had never taught deaf children before, but were well drilled in the skills of teaching.

Retirement on the back burner, the two started learning about teaching the deaf and eventually moved their classes into a chicken coop in which jones put down the floor. Hartley contacted her son Campbell in B.C. and told him about the project. He told others and before long donations started coming into the school in dribs and drabs. The Canadian International Development Agency gave the school a grant, the Mexican government paid the salary of one teacher and Canadian teacher Gwen Chan volunteered to take on the job of executive director of the school.

The biggest expense coming up is to buy the land the chicken coop/school sits on. The owner wanted to develop the site, but has offered it to the committee running the school for $25,000. The committee has raised half of that so far.

It all began with two women

Roma and Jackie were approached by a deaf person in their town and asked if there was a way to help. After some investigation, the expats learned that there were quite a few deaf people receiving no educational services. With no background in teaching the deaf and no place to hold classes, the women set out to conquer the problem.

The Early School

The school started as a chicken coop and was slowly improved to house 30 students in classrooms. Lots of work went into the improvements; much of the work was done by Jackie and Roma.

The First Students

The students finally had a school and teachers who cared. The smiles are for the future that this gave them.