Reach Out Initiative in Kenya

Julie Spigner, an education major from Florida, traveled to Kenya with the Global Reach Out Initiative this summer. Here, just in time for International Education Week at Gallaudet, she recounts the group’s three-week visit as delegates to the Kenya Youth Leadership Camp (KYLC).

The journey began with a 23-hour plane ride halfway around the world to Kenya, Africa. The flight each way was brutally long. I stayed in Kenya for three weeks with other American delegates, including my fellow Gallaudet student Georgina Fitzpatrick, as well as members of the Kenyan delegation. We stayed in Karen, a suburb of the capital, Nairobi.

During the first week, I got to know other American delegates and met with some local deaf Kenyans for interaction and learning Kenyan Sign Language. One of the first things that surprised me was the fact that Kenyans there speak English.
For the next two weeks, the American contingent camped out at the Karen Technical Training Institute for the Deaf. There, we planned our participation in the KYLC and met our Kenyan counterparts. Together, we would plan activities for 33 deaf youths between the ages of 16 and 24. We only had one week to do this, making it a long and stressful week for the American and Kenyan delegates.

We faced many cultural differences during our preparations. For example, the Kenyan educational system follows the philosophy of learning by rote, which involves mostly memorizing. As an education major, I am seeing more and more how critical thinking skills play a huge part in academic success. I believe the rote style of learning limits critical thinking skills, which is vital to our success outside the walls of our schools.

One of the things I learned as an American is that Kenyans don’t talk/sign during meals–that was a major difference for deaf Americans! American delegates signed and ate at the same time. We accepted a bet from Kenyans to try not to sign anything at all during lunch one day and we did it! It was one of the most interesting meals we had in Kenya!

The campers I had for KYLC came from different parts of Kenya. After I met all of them, I quickly learned the fact that many of them were not born deaf. Many became deaf later in childhood, usually between 5 and 12 years old, from being sick with meningitis. There was little or no medication to prevent it. Because the population of deaf children is high in Kenya, about 50 schools have been established for deaf students.

The KYLC was an awesome experience for the staff as well as the campers. It was such an honor to meet the campers, who were so eager to learn about so many things that are common to us Americans, like making s’mores at the campfire.

We earned the campers’ trust through example and helped them strengthen their concepts of teamwork and leadership. We taught the deaf Kenyan campers different strategies to empower themselves and others. We also discussed the role of education. We told them how important it is to get a good education and become an advocate for themselves and their classmates, and that education is the key to their success.

Becoming educated will help future deaf Kenyans who might otherwise be oppressed by the government. We encouraged them to support deaf rights and become a vital part of the deaf community so they can develop a strong deaf culture and heritage to be passed down to future generations.
We left there with the hopes that we have touched their lives and that our inspiration was contagious.

My journey to Kenya was an experience that will last a lifetime for this future teacher of deaf children. I look forward to sharing my experiences with future generations of deaf students here in America.’

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