Listening with her heart

By Beth Doherty

Eight years ago, Anna Chandler had a virus. The virus resulted in her full hearing loss in her right ear, a condition which has continued to deteriorate each year since in her left ear.

The charismatic youth minister, teacher and Centacare facilitator however has not let this enormous challenge prevent her from sharing a message of hope with those around her.

“I am a musician, a teacher and a facilitator and I want to, as much as possible, continue to do those things to show that people with a disability can contribute richly to the society and indeed, to the Church”, she said.

Two weeks ago, as the newly formed Deaf and Hard of Hearing Committee of the Australian Bishops meets in Canberra, Anna sat at the table with them, sharing her story and inspiring others.

“I started a youth group in my parish ten years ago in Townsville and it still continues to this day. While I have had to take a step back from some of the things I do, there are other things that I can do much better now that I have this hearing loss”, she said.
“I have an increased passion and tolerance for working with people with a disability. I’ve been exposed to people with disabilities my whole life, within my family, but in the last couple of years, I have used my experiences to try and help others who aren’t in such a fortunate position. I can use the resources and gifts I have been given.”

Last year, Anna met Patricia Mowbray, Disability Projects Officer of the ACBC at the Australian Catholic Youth Ministry Convention in Melbourne, and the experience changed her life.

“I arrived at the Convention really nervous about being there. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to hear what was going on, and anxious about being in groups and missing what people were saying.

I get so anxious about these situations, because from the outside, I look and sound just like a person without a disability. People often aren’t aware of the struggles I face”, she said.

“I was immediately put at ease when I realised that all of the keynote sessions had Auslan interpreters. Then, I signed up for the disability session and met Trish Mowbray. We hit it off immediately, and after spending some time together, crying and laughing together, she invited me to be a part of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Committee. It gave me so much hope.”

After realising how little support there was in North Queensland for people with disabilities, Anna decided to take on a Masters degree in this area.

“It has changed my career part having this life experience. Now I am studying a Masters in education, in guidance and counselling. Due to my hearing loss, I had to leave teaching, which was a vocation to me. However, I love the work I do with Centacare, so there is still a chance to be in a sort of pastoral role. Also, there is very little pastoral support in North Queensland for deaf and hard-of-hearing children in our school system so I want to work to change that, this is a real passion that I have.”

Anna’s passion for life has always been strong, however it has not been an easy journey facing hearing loss in her twenties.

“I remember sitting in Mass, feeling sorry for myself when it all started to happen eight years ago. It was all very negative and unclear what was happening. But, somehow, I just drew strength from the youth group and my faith community at home and the people around me, and decided that I have to do something positive with this situation and find the blessings in it.”

“As a music teacher, and coming from a family where music was such an important part of our lives, it’s been a hard journey. It’s hard not to be able to use that as a way to worship. Yet, I’ve found other ways. That’s what it is all about, finding different ways to praise and serve one another, even if our gifts are hidden, and need to be found.”