A deaf Carnoustie woman has just returned from humanitarian work in Africa where she championed deaf rights and taught parents how to communicate with their deaf children.
Shona Ramsay-Hogan, 21, spent three months fighting for deaf people’s rights in Nandi County, Kenya, where deafness is seen often as a ‘curse’ or a ‘punishment from God’ and half the population live below the poverty line.
Poverty and prejudice mean deaf children in Kenya are often marginalised and get little support. Research conducted by international development organisation VSO found that services for deaf children in Nandi were incredibly limited and that even many parents of deaf children were unable to communicate with their children. Before Shona’s project began very few people in the community knew sign language and many believed deafness was a source of shame for the family, with some parents keeping their deaf children confined to the house.
Shona travelled to Nandi, a rural area six hours north west of the Kenyan capital Nairobi, in July to work to change this as part of a unique project run by international development organisation VSO and Deaf charity Deafway, through the UK Government funded International Citizen Service (ICS) programme.
Shona worked with a community group that supports children with disabilities to get a good education. She ran sessions for parents of deaf children, teaching them much needed sign language - meaning that some could have a full conversation with their child for the first time - and helping them access support for their children from the Kenyan Government.
Alongside her nine British and 11 Kenyan team mates who are also deaf, Shona also helped build a new playground at the local deaf school. The team also staged a deaf awareness march which brought around 100 deaf and hearing people together from all over Nandi, to fight for the rights of deaf people and bring an end to the discrimination.
In total, Shona and her team mates taught 450 local community members Kenyan Sign Language, and registered 35 previously unidentified deaf children and young people to receive support from the Kenyan Government’s National Council for Persons with Disabilities (NCPWD).
Shona said: “Long term the project will mean less isolation and more communication for deaf children in Nandi, as well as better access to education and better awareness in the community. Even little things like somebody signing ‘hello, how are you’ can make someone’s day.
“There have been times where we have been a bit overwhelmed with the amount of local people wanting to learn Kenya Sign Language and wanting to be involved in the project. The hearing people in the community have shown such a big interest and the enthusiasm shown towards the project has been something of an achievement in itself.
“I think it’s made a big difference that the volunteers are deaf. It’s easier to relate to children in the deaf community in Nandi and even though we live in different countries, many deaf people have the same experiences with communication. As we are deaf too, we are seen as equals, and you don’t feel like the other person is trying to patronise you.
Henry Jirongo Amaya, who has three deaf children and attended Shona’s sign language lessons in Yala, a remote part of Nandi County, said:
“In the past, I had no direction on this matter. I felt sorry for myself and wondered why all my three children were deaf. I wondered what would happen to their future. Since the volunteers arrived and I came for advice and to learn sign language, I now see that if given the opportunity to learn, they will learn just as any other child.”
Felicity Morgan, Director of ICS at VSO, said:
“We’re immensely proud of the work our volunteers have been doing in Kenya. Being deaf in Nandi could easily mean a life of isolation, unemployment and poverty – but this needn’t be the case. It is inspiring to hear that, with the volunteers’ help, the deaf community in Nandi are supporting each other, increasing their confidence and speaking out for their rights.
“Our volunteers are living proof that young people can make a hugely positive impact on communities in some of the poorest parts of the world, and we’re passionate about making ICS accessible to as many young people as possible. We welcome applications from anyone aged 18-25 who wants to tackle poverty and inequality around the world.”
ICS allows all young people aged 18-25 to contribute to sustainable development projects tackling poverty in Africa, Asia and Latin America. VSO and Deafway partnered to create a bespoke ICS programme which offers d/Deaf young adults the opportunity to fight poverty and inequality through volunteering.
Based in Lancashire, Deafway have links with the Deaf community worldwide and have a strong track record of working with the Nepalese and Ugandan Deaf community to improve conditions for Deaf people in vulnerable situations. At the centre of Deafway’s work is an understanding of and respect for sign language, the Deaf community and Deaf culture. Deafway have partnered with VSO to create a bespoke ICS programme which offers Deaf young adults the same opportunities as hearing young adults.
To find out more about ICS or to apply, visit www.volunteerics.org. To find out more about Deafway, visit http://www.deafway.org.uk/.