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“People in this community view my job as a waste of time”

Teacher Isabella in Kenya VSO

Isabella Kituyi, 39, explains how she copes as a teacher of children that many local people don't think deserve education, and how training from VSO led her on a mission to fight for disability rights in Bungoma County, Kenya.

On my first day at Kimwanga Special School for the Hearing Impaired, I looked at the pupils and I questioned myself: Will I manage? And if I don’t, what will I do then? What if I lose my job? I had nothing in my head to prepare me for this work, no training or knowledge of Kenyan Sign Language (KSL).

But I was encouraged by the head teacher. She told me that the best teacher is these children themselves. By becoming comfortable with them, I would come to know some of the signs. I was interested and I was committed to teaching, so I kept on trying.

I used to use non-professional signing to get my message across even for basic things like wanting them to sit or eat. But after my training with VSO I am now able to use proper KSL to communicate with them.

A reason to keep going

Teacher Isabella signing to deaf children in Kenya VSO/Jeff DeKock

Teacher Isabella has become a passionate advocate for disability rights in her local community in Bungoma, Kenya

It makes me happy whenever parents come to school to tell us that thanks to my teaching students are now able to better express themselves back at home. This is really motivating and gives me a reason to keep on with what I am doing.

Many people in the community view this job as a waste of time. They look at our young ones, think that we are giving out something that is not supposed to be given to them. They see these children as people who are already wasted. They are not valuable in the community. So they see us teachers as wasting our time here, doing nothing.

The negative perception that people have of these young ones deeply saddens me. I wish to see a time where they will see them as normal human beings who only have a different way of communicating their thoughts. 

Taking action against discrimination

That is why I have taken a personal responsibility to educate the community around me about them – it is my hope that someday they will be appreciated and not discriminated against. As for me, I am not giving up on them no matter what people’s thoughts are- they are my main motivation.

Thanks to training, I am courageous and now even in church I talk to people and show them the benefit of us loving these pupils – or anyone – who is hearing impaired. So in the communities where I come from, they now know that a person with an impairment is just a normal person like them. 

That has encouraged some of the parents who were hiding their hearing deaf children at home. Now they look for me wherever I am. VSO gave us a book for KSL communication – I invite these parents and show them the book. Two of my neighbours are deaf, I am also teaching them KSL.

Children who have nothing

Children stand by the blackboard in a Kenyan classroom ©VSO/Jeff DeKock

Most of the hearing impaired children in Isabella's class come from impoverished families

We have got so many challenges in our school –uncountable. Our pupils come from far, so you may come to school and meet only one child, or none, because of the distance. These children come from poor families. They need support from us, even food. Sometimes they tell you, ‘Miss, yesterday I slept without eating, so I cannot concentrate.’

It forces us teachers to dip into our own pockets, to be able to provide some food for them so that they can be motivated and have energy to learn. It is hard on my salary – I am not comfortable. Sometimes I cannot afford transport to school so I walk for one hour to reach here from my place.

I get to school at 7.30am. I do cleanliness and health check-ups with those pupils who have already arrived. Some children come from homes without water, so I wash their faces. 

Biggest challenge

We have only two classrooms. In my class are four streams together at once, class zero to four. There are effectively four lessons going on at once: we just have to divide the blackboard into four. So teaching becomes a problem – it is very hard for the pupils to concentrate.

In the school, all our children have hearing impairments. I also have three hearing children with learning disabilities, and one girl with intellectual impairment. This makes teaching difficult because those with additional disabilities may refuse to participate. 

Isabella's classroom ©VSO/Jeff DeKock

Isabella's school has only two classrooms. She teaches a lesson in a cramped space using one quarter of the blackboard.

Handling these children is the hardest thing about the job. You want to attend to them, but you cannot always understand them. You want to ask a question, instead you get a slap. That is very difficult. But since training, I feel empathy because these children are just the same as normal children, but because of the impairment it may affect their actions. I sympathise with them.

Being a teacher is the best

People from outside should try and have a positive attitude towards our children who are hearing impaired – or towards anyone who has a disability.  If they have that positive attitude they will keep on assisting them, knowing that they are just normal beings like others.

Despite the challenges, I still say being a teacher is the best. I can interact with anyone, anywhere, and in whichever situation, because I have handled these young ones.

About the project

Community Enpowerment for Deaf Inclusion (CEDI) is a 3-year project that aims to contribute to enhanced quality of life of deaf children, deaf youth and their families in Kenya. The project facilitates access to quality education, creates and strengthens community support systems, advocates for a supportive policy environment, and enhances economic capacity of deaf youth and their families. The project is delivered in partnership with Deaf Child Worldwide.

Find out more

This World Teacher's Day, find out more about why being a teacher is the hardest job in the world.

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