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When Jacob Ireri, a Gallaudet senior and World Deaf Leadership scholar from Embu, Kenya, learned recently that he was one of eight finalists from a field of 450 applicants from 29 countries in the Philips Livable Cities Award competition, “I was so excited that I jumped and jumped until I couldn’t breathe,” he said.
Royal Philips Electronics, the company that sponsors the award, a global initiative designed to generate practical, achievable ideas for improving the health and well-being of people living in cities.” According to its website, Philips, whose global headquarters is in the Netherlands, “is a diversified health and well-being company, focused on improving people’s lives through timely innovations.”
Ireri’s entry, “Health Education Initiative for the Deaf,” proposes to teach deaf Kenyan youth about personal hygiene, communicating these skills through the country’s native sign language. He said developing a program of this nature “has the potential to transform the lives of deaf children across Kenya.” Ireri’s concern for the well-being of deaf Kenyan youth comes from personal experience. “Growing up in Kenya, I know that only a limited number of young deaf people are aware of the importance and value of personal hygiene because they were never afforded the opportunities to learn. I believe my initiative will produce a healthier environment for deaf Kenyan youth to learn, live, and work.”
Winners will be selected by popular vote. Philips will collect votes on its website until March 24, and announce the winners at an April 27 awards ceremony in Amsterdam. The top winner receives a $100,000 cash prize, and second- and third-place winners will each receive $34,000. Ireri said that if he is selected as a winner, his dream to help youth in his country will come to fruition. He feels confident that he has a good chance of taking home an award. “If the Gallaudet community supports my cause, I am most likely to win,” he said.

While attending last year’s World Youth Congress in Istanbul, Turkey, Ireri learned about the Philips competition from one of the exhibitors at the congress, who was aware of his desire to improve the lives of deaf Kenyan youth. The exhibitor urged Ireri to submit an entry.

Ireri, who is majoring in international education and development, agreed that entering the competition would be an ideal way to bring the world’s attention to the significant challenges faced by many deaf children who do not receive appropriate or accessible health education. He also hopes that being the only deaf person among the finalists will lead to increased deaf awareness. “It was important for me to participate in the competition because I want to prove to the world that deaf people are just as willing to change the world as hearing people,” he said. “Now, people around the world will not only become interested in my project but they will also want to learn about deaf people and deaf culture.”

Ireri received his elementary school education at Kerugoya School for the Deaf and his secondary education at Rev. Muhoro High School. He first learned about Gallaudet through an American Peace Corps volunteer at his elementary school. Ireri said he was inspired to enroll at Gallaudet because it provided him an unparalleled opportunity “to realize my potential of becoming a leader to help prepare and empower others to be effective advocates for social justice and equity.”

The goal of leadership development received a boost when Ireri received the World Deaf Leadership (WDL) Scholarship. WDL is an endowed scholarship funded by the Nippon Foundation of Tokyo, Japan, for students from developing nations.

After graduation, Ireri said, “I hope to apply the knowledge, skill, and experience I’ve gained at Gallaudet to discover possible solutions to the problems experienced by deaf population in Kenya towards transforming and empowering them socially, linguistically, culturally, and economically.”

Go to the Livable Cities Award website to learn more about Ireri’s project and view a short video. Note: the video is not captioned, but the brief script follows:

Philips Livable Cities Award script
Health Education Initiative for the Deaf. Kenya

Intro

Hi, I’m Valerie Coleman-Morris*, and I’m here to present the Health Education Initiative for the Deaf. This idea has been shortlisted for the Philips Livable Cities Award, a global initiative created to improve life for people living in cities.

Pitch

Effective communication is key to how we function within a society–how we access information, how we learn and how we interact with those around us. So for people who are deaf, it’s important that the necessary support and tools are available so that they can overcome these barriers.

Through his Health Education Initiative for the Deaf, Jacob Ireri, from Embu in Kenya, hopes to address significant challenges faced by the many deaf children there who do not receive appropriate health education in an accessible way.

The goal of the idea is to teach Kenyan Sign Language to deaf children, across the seven schools for the deaf that exist in Embu, Kenya, and to promote health-related information by developing teaching aids and methods, such as DVDs, websites, software programs, and simple textbooks. This initiative has the potential to transform the lives of deaf children across Kenya, teaching them about personal and environmental hygiene, and helping them to learn critical health and life skills.

*Valerie Coleman-Morris, CNN journalist, will be pitching the shortlisted entries for the Philips Livable Cities Award.

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