Last year, team of deaf VSO ICS volunteers from the UK worked alongside deaf local volunteers in the Nandi region of Kenya, where they established free sign language sessions and support classes for deaf children and their parents.
In Kenya, many people view deafness as a curse. Parents are often ashamed to have a deaf child or believe it is a punishment from God. As a result, deaf children are frequently kept at home without access to vital education, play and social interaction.
Communicating for the first time
ICS volunteer Asher from London was shocked when he first met deaf primary school student Victor. “He couldn’t sign at all, he couldn’t speak – he had no way to communicate whatsoever,” explained Asher. “We were the first people that ever taught him any sign language, and he was so amazed.”
In total, the volunteers taught 450 local community members Kenyan Sign Language. This included teaching sign language to hearing students so they could communicate with their deaf classmates for the first time.
They also registered 35 previously unidentified deaf children and young people to receive support from the government’s National Council for Persons with Disabilities. Despite Kenya’s deaf population numbering almost 190,000, many deaf people are not registered to receive such support.
Henry Jirongo Amaya, the father of three deaf children, used to worry about their future. After attending the sign language sessions led by ICS volunteers, he was more optimistic. “Since the volunteers arrived and I came for advice and to learn sign language, I now see that if given the opportunity to learn, deaf children will learn just as any other child.”
The volunteers helped to address some of the stigma attached to deafness, by demonstrating to the wider community what deaf people can achieve. They organised a deaf awareness march that brought together 100 deaf and hearing people to fight for deaf rights and an end to discrimination.
Pavundeep, a UK volunteer, said, “Before, people didn’t realise that deaf people could speak or go to university, but in our ICS group we had engineers, psychologists – even a yoga teacher. I think we’ve changed a lot of people’s views on what it means to be deaf.”
Looking to the future
The work started by the ICS volunteers will be continued through VSO’s ongoing work with the deaf community in Nandi, helping to improve access to quality education for deaf children and employment opportunities for deaf young people.
For Asher, the highlight was seeing Victor and the other deaf children his team supported grow in confidence. "Now, when school finishes, the deaf and hearing children play together. The communication has really gone up an amazing level!"