Young Ambassador's Report Back on Kenya

Jessica, 15 and Samina, 14 report back on their recent trip to Kenya in their role as Send My Friend Young Ambassadors. Accompanied by their teacher and Guardian journalist Susanna Rustin, the group had a busy week meeting with deaf pupils and teachers in a number of schools and attending meetings with the Ministry of Education, Kenya National Union of Teachers and County Directors of Education to uncover some of the challenges faced in providing inclusive and quality education to deaf children in Kenya.

Day  1: Arriving in Africa and  meeting Kenya’s Global Campaign for Education


Samina: “We went to meet Raynor, a very passionate advocate for the right to education. Raynor works for Elimu Yetu Coalition (EYC), Kenya’s Global Campaign for Education and gave us an insight into the challenges children face, especially those that have a disability, like being deaf.

Raynor explained that 50% of people in Kenya live below the poverty line and while basic education is free in Kenya, hidden costs like buying uniforms and other materials mean that 1.6 million children are still missing out on school.

I was shocked to hear about the class sizes – the ratio should be one pupil to 35 students but she said it’s not uncommon to find one teacher for up to 100 students. The EYC are doing lots of interesting things to improve education in Kenya such as asking the government to get better at data – it’s hard to quantify the issue because of a lack of statistics and that means it’s hard for the government to know how to prioritise spending. I’m looking forward to hearing from government members their side of the story and am already feeling like we’ll have lots to report when we return to the UK.”

Day  2: Visiting schools and homes in Nairobi

Samina: "“Today we visited Baba Dogo Primary School, a mainstream school with a specialist deaf unit. We met children up to 18 because the way the education system works in Kenya is that regardless of your age - you must pass classes 1-8 before moving onto secondary school.

The Headteacher Rosalyn told us about the challenges of deaf children having to travel long distances to get to a school with specialist support and the lack of teachers and resources. 

There are just 18 teachers but 1500 pupils!

The government should be sending money to support children with special educational needs, but she said that hasn’t happened in a while.

We observed a mainstream classroom where we met a deaf child called Agnes. She lost her hearing last year and was expecting to move up one class but missed most of the class when she became deaf, so she was forced to retake the class. I realised that hearing loss puts a real strain on peoples education. Children with this disability have to work extra hard to make sure they do not fall behind their classmates.

 Baba Dogo Kenya Send My Friend

They have to learn an entire new language (Kenyan Sign Language, KSL) to be able to communicate with others but to do this they have to be taken out of the mainstream classes to learn KSL, and all too easily they can fall behind 3 or 4 years.

Could you imagine how isolating that would make you feel watching your friends every time they move up a class? Thankfully, Agnes is currently in the mainstream class accompanied  by a second teacher who is able to help her so she doesn't fall behind. She also helps with her confidence, reminding her that she deserves to be in the classroom alongside her friends and classmates. I don't think I've ever seen anything more heartwarming. 

Finally, we went to the school’s deaf unit where there were about 17 pupils. The room was very colourful and bright and I could see all of the enthusiastic energy bursting out of all the little children, which showed the passion the teachers have for the pupils."

Jessica: "“In the afternoon we attended a support group at Thawabu Primary School for parents of deaf children.

I loved hearing from mothers, like Anne and Beatrice, about how having this support group has improved their lives; it made them happier, and helped them learn KSL for free so they can communicate with their children more easily. 

Also, it was interesting to hear about the stigma surrounding deafness and disabilities. The headteacher Mwangi said that for some people“the deaf are seen as a curse, as a bad omen.” I think things are improving but there’s definitely still some prejudice towards deaf children, which is really sad. However, the fact that the parents and teachers are standing up to this really inspired me."


Day  3: Learning more from politicians and  meeting teachers making a difference

 Send My Friend, Ministry of Education Kenya, meeting with Director of Policy

Jessica: “We started with an early meeting at the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. They began by explaining how they have ‘a vision for an inclusive school system which doesn't discriminate’, but we were told that the biggest challenge is a lack of resources."

Samina: "Later, we had a meeting with the Kenyan Union of Teachers (KNUT) to find out why the ratio between teachers and pupils is so shockingly high and more about the welfare of teachers throughout Kenya. We learnt that many teachers are training to teach children with disabilities but are unable to find secure jobs with a decent salary due to the lack of government funding for schools to hire more teachers."


Day  4: Rural Kwale and  visiting a residential deaf school

 Kwale School Kenya Send My Friend

Samina: "This morning we travelled to rural Kwale - a big contrast to industrialised Nairobi. The Education Assessment and Research Centre (EARC) in Kwale creates awareness on special needs education and has a really important role in assessing children  with disabilities and working to support them. For example, when they identify a child as being deaf they work with Deaf Child Worldwide and VSO to make sure the child gets help to enrol in school and to suggest the child and family attend the free sign language classes the project offers.”

Jessica: “We met with the Kwale County Director for Education who talked about some of the challenges in this rural area facing children in getting an education. Just like in Nairobi, hidden costs are a big barrier.

There are huge distances between some of the schools in this sparsely populated area and that’s why the government have created more boarding schools. The children only see their families over the holidays between terms but sometimes the heavy rainfall means children can’t travel back to school on time."

Samina: “What struck us as soon as we got to Kwale Residential School was the smell of burning in the atmosphere. But what scared me was when the head teacher told us that the smoke is constant and the school is polluted was because farmland owners were setting hundreds of trees on fire to clear their land. One of the students told us how everyday he and his classmates have to take it in turns to rush down to the fire, grab as much wood as they can to put out the fire then rush back to make sure they are not falling behind their lessons.

Why are these children suffering as a result of having a disability? There is no other school in the area that they can attend to get the proper education they need. I was so angry and I am still so furious thinking about it. But for them, we will be their voice. We will do our best to make sure these pupils are in a safe learning environment because absolutely NOBODY in this world should be made to feel that they must put their lives at risk, just so they can get an education.”


Day  5: Kinango School for the deaf

Kinango School Send My Friend Kenya

Jessica: “Sadly, Friday was our last day. We travelled to Kinango School for the Deaf (a boarding school), which was in a very remote and rural area.

I remember thinking how quiet the school was but when we visited the classrooms, we realised a lot of conversation was going on, just that it was in sign language. 

My favourite part was having a one to one conversation with a girl called Salome. The first thing I noticed about her was the big, contagious smile on her face and how confident and friendly she was. I introduced myself to her in sign language and told her my sign name as well as finger spelling my name. I'm happy that she was patient as I'm very inexperienced with Kenyan Sign Language and I probably made a few mistakes! I asked her about the school and her family and she told me that she wants to become a hairdresser in the future and she loves school."

Samina: “I met a girl roughly the same age as me, who told me everything this boarding school has done for her; how amazing her friends are and how welcome she felt when she arrived. And I told her about my life. She made me really laugh and smile, until I asked her when was the last time she saw her family.
“She told me how her family has neglected her for years because of being deaf and that she had to bring herself to this boarding school to get an education because her parents believed she wasn't worthy of one. Her parents don’t provide anything for her and on top of that, they won't even come to visit her!

Can you imagine how it must feel that your parents don't want you because you're deaf?

But one thing that made me smile was that although this is happening to her, she wants to be a role model for children in the same situation. 

She wants them to realise that they still deserve to be respected and well educated.

I was so happy to hear that she wanted to be a role model that I gave her a Send My Friend to School t-shirt. I told her whenever she wears it to remember that I am and will always be her friend. That she is loved by so many people because this campaign is all about sending our friends to school and getting them an education, in a safe environment, regardless of whether they have a disability or not.”  

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