This summer, Deaf volunteers from the UK and Kenya came together in Nandi, 200 miles north of the capital, Nairobi.
Bringing different personal experiences of Deafness, these volunteers from two continents encouraged people across the region to rethink disability. From teaching sign language to a mother so she could communicate with her Deaf daughter for the first time, to helping the public question disability stigma, these ICS volunteers are leading the fight for Deaf rights.
2. Making noise about Deafness
As a result, misconceptions about disability are rife. It’s not unheard of for Deaf children to be seen as a ‘curse’ on the family. Thinking that there’s no hope for them in traditional schools where they can’t understand their teachers, parents often keep them at home to do the housework.
3. “It’s so important young people are at the centre of this work”
“My time on ICS was overwhelming and very emotional because of the transformation we saw,” explained Team Leader Raabia Hussain, 25, from Oldham. “It’s been life-changing and the best 14 weeks of my life. It’s so important young people are at the centre of this work so we are taking a lead in changing the worldwide perceptions of disability and helping empower change.”
4. Making sure our work is centred around the community
Students and teachers above, pictured outside Kapsabet School for the Deaf, an organisation which VSO and ICS have been working with for years. ICS volunteers help ensure that local children with special educational needs can access the schooling they deserve.
5. “We thought only Africans could be deaf”
“I remember an initial meeting with ICS exploring whether a project could work here,” explained local chief Priscilla Metto. “They explained that a team of Deaf volunteers would be coming over from the UK. We didn’t know mzungus [white people] could also be deaf! We thought it was only Africans.”
6. Making new friendships that will last a lifetime
Two Kenyan counterparts play a board game during some rare downtime from project work.
7. “I’m really proud of the stories I captured here”
In addition to Raabia’s hectic schedule as Team Leader on the ICS project, she was also busy with one of her other passions – filmmaking. As a producer for TV channel ITV back in her home city of Manchester, she’s an expert at telling people’s stories. And on ICS, that didn’t stop. She brought her kit with her to film a documentary about life in Nandi county for those with disabilities.
“We filmed the story of a mother with two disabled children,” said Raabia. “It was a heart-warming to see a mother who was so enthusiastic about ensuring her children got the full support they deserved. Although filming on placement was one of the hardest experiences during my time as a filmmaker, I’m really proud of the stories I captured here.”
8. Have you heard of Kenyan Sign Language?
You might have heard of British or American sign language – but what about Kenyan Sign Language (KSL)? It’s exists of its own right, and as of 2010, is written into the country’s constitution as an indigenous language. It’s currently used by half of Kenya’s 600,000 deaf population.
9. A future where all students can communicate
But although Kenyan Sign Language is recognised by the government of Kenya as an official language, it’s not widely taught. ICS volunteers are hoping to change that. On placement, they worked in local schools, delivering KSL sessions so hearing children can communicate with their peers with hearing loss.
10. “People think my child’s Deafness is a curse”
“Some thought she was a curse,” mother Nuru Hassan explains, as she describes public attitudes towards her six-year-old daughter, Heavenlights. “Some thought I’d tried to use medication to abort my baby and failed. People have different views on how they see me.
“Things were hard. And previously we couldn’t communicate. We couldn’t understand each other. Our languages were different. But now we’re learning sign language together, I’m enjoying it because it means we can talk and connect as mother and daughter.”
11. We are all abled differently
We couldn’t say it better ourselves.
12. Showing that not all disabilities are visible
And it’s not just about being aware of physical disabilities. In this session, UK volunteer Lauren Feeney helps raise awareness about invisible disabilities like mental illness.
13. Sharing each other’s culture
There’s obvious differences in British and Kenyan Deaf culture yet so many unifying similarities too. ICS volunteers Enock Ongwae, Lauren Feeney, Raabia Hussain and Doreen Sirengo enjoyed spending 12 weeks learning about differences in language, food and society, and connecting in ways they could never have imagined.
And their work hasn’t finished here. Now they’re back home, they’re running their own Action at Home projects – work that includes Raabia finishing her documentary to make sure her local community in the UK can learn more about disability stigma too.