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It was like the deaf were in a deep sleep

Harrison Kariuki, 28, is a teacher and was part of VSO ICS’s all-deaf placement, Deafway, in 2016. Currently a volunteer at Kapsabet School for the Deaf in the west of the country, he's using sign language to challenge stigma and secure a brighter future for deaf people in the region. 

I was born deaf. As a child, my parents weren’t sure where to send me to school, so at first I went to a mainstream school, and then a school for children with learning disabilities. Then my dad’s sister told him about a school for deaf children, so after being examined at the hospital I was enrolled there. 

I studied a diploma in special education at university, and when I finished I came to Nandi to teach geography and Kenyan sign language. 

Harrison signing with Susan
© Amber Mezbourian
Harrison talking to ICS interpreter Susan.

That’s where I first learnt about VSO. They were looking for volunteers to work with deaf youths in the community. I applied to be an ICS volunteer because I wanted to gain more experience and learn from my peers. On ICS, you get to work with different people and put your knowledge to use in the community. 

I was part of an all-deaf ICS group, with UK and Kenyan volunteers. At first, this was challenging because the UK volunteers used British Sign Language and we used Kenyan Sign Language. We also found that the UK volunteers had more experience in teaching and education. So, it was a very good experience for us to interact and learn from one another. 

"Before the ICS volunteers came, it’s like the deaf people were in a deep sleep."


My group taught deaf youths about business and entrepreneurship, such as how to apply for and manage loans, and how to save up money. 

Harrison has been teaching basic sign language to people in Nandi, Kenya
© ICS / VSO / Jeff DeKock
Harrison has been teaching basic sign language to people in Nandi, Kenya

We taught them about starting their own businesses. For example, if someone wanted to start a salon, we’d tell them about the different things they needed to do, such as how to brand their salon. 

Previously, many hearing people didn’t know any sign language. We taught basic sign language to the parents of deaf children, and raised awareness in Nandi about the use of sign language. In fact, the county is now looking to employ a sign language interpreter. 

People in the community used to think that deaf and other disabled people were useless and that we couldn’t achieve anything in our lives. ICS volunteers have carried out sensitisation activities to raise awareness, and now there’s less discrimination. People understand more about disability. 

I think previously, disabled people were seen as a curse from god, but now there is more acceptance. Attitudes have changed because of the volunteers. 

Harrison was involved with the ICS deaf awareness programme Deafway
© ICS / VSO / Jeff DeKock
Harrison was involved with the ICS deaf awareness programme Deafway

I’m now a volunteer at Kapsabet School for the Deaf, because I understand the challenges that deaf people face. I know what the pupils here are going through and I want to act as a role model so they see that deaf people can have a positive future. 

I love teaching my pupils sign language because it helps me to help them advocate for their rights. You need to be able to communicate with others in order to advocate for your rights, so by teaching sign language, I empower my pupils. 

Many disabled people in Kenya are still suffering. Children are kept at home and denied an education. I hope that by 2030, disabled people across the country will be able to access schools and other services. I pray to god that we’ll all be treated the same as other people, without any oppression.