Karen Ngugi is a happy young woman. Despite her sense of hearing challenges, she still manages to pull that dazzling infectious smile on her face at all times.
She engages in deep conversations without limits to books and careers. She is always in the company of another woman, a beautiful scene in her school.
When you see them, you will think the ‘mother and her daughter’ took the same course. They are always together.
For those who understand the underlying circumstances, it’s clear that Karen is deaf while the ‘mother’ is her sign language interpreter.
But you will never notice this if you do not have a keen eye for details.
Karen passed well in her class. She received the much-coveted First-class honors Degree in Bachelor of Computer Science at Riara University on July 4,2020.The graduation was virtual.
“I just did the unthinkable but it’s something more special group people can manage to achieve. It’s not difficult,” she said.
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The cost of hiring a private sign language interpreter is so high and she feels the government should consider hiring interpreters for the deaf students.
“We have rights to access quality education as our hearing counterparts. We should not be limited by not being able to understand what is going on in class,” she said.
Adding: “If we manage to do this, we can save many deaf children from going through what I have undergone, shoving us into a tiny box that does not have deaf role models to look up to. And so, we feel like we cannot be whatever we want to be.”
Karen lost her hearing at the age of 4. She attended Joymereen Integrated School, where she interacted with other deaf kids. The experience might have been great, but Karen thinks otherwise.
“Looking back now, the odd thing about that school is that they prohibited the use of sign language,” she recalls.
The experience aside, it is in this school that she learned signing and lip-reading. She excitedly signed, “It is a skill that has served me well countless times in a world of speaking majority.”
She has once had to go for one-on-one private sessions with a sign language interpreter before building the confidence to join others in the classroom.
She went to Reverend Muhoro Secondary School for the deaf in Mukuruwe-ini, Karatina. Then an opportunity presented itself to her. She qualified to go to the United States of America for an exchange program. While there, she attended Rocky Mountain High School for the Deaf, where she had the best moments of her life.
When she came back to the country, she joined Braebum Imani International School. It is here that she met Miriam Nekesa, her sign language interpreter. She would hold her hand from high school all through campus.
“With Miriam I become a more active participant in class. We could also chat and gossip about anything,” she said.
“With the communication barrier out of the way, I got access to advice, stories, and tidbits of wisdom that I couldn’t have with my family and relatives.
Miriam didn’t just help me academically; she is the reason why I have more self-confidence than ever. I can face the world when she is around,” she added.
On her side, Miriam Nekesa reflected all the things that Karen had said. Once in a while, she doubted whether Karen understood the lecturers. However, she always made her proud by excelling in her classwork.
Their chemistry is so strong that Miriam pointed out people would mistake her for Karen’s mother. Her parents would even take her to stay with Miriam during the holidays, for she felt home in her hands. Furthermore, they understood each other well.
She described Karen as “my best friend, best student and best granddaughter.”
She also noted that Karen is very curious and that she learned a lot from her.”Amenifunza mengi.”(She has taught me a lot.)
Davis Raymond, her friend, and classmate said, “She is not afraid to tell the truth at all! She is also fun to be around with.” He praised her advice academically and the help she offered while they were on campus.
“Karen is supportive of me and the things I do to a point that she attends my musical concerts despite being deaf.” Another close friend, Mercy Wambui, told me via a phone interview.
I questioned her on what she wanted to do with her life now that she has graduated.
“I am fascinated with Artificial Intelligence and web and software development. As well as interested in the field of data science and machine learning,” she said.
Hers being a success story, the Master’s student at University of Nairobi now has the following advice to deaf children.
“Do not let your deafness determine whether or not you do something with your life. If something interests you, go ahead and do it, and get innovative in overcoming communication barriers. You should understand you have a life of your own just like any other person and you should be responsible for it.”
According to Dr. George Jefwa, from the University of Nairobi, sign language interpreters play a crucial role in the learner’s life since they act as a link between the hearing and the deaf world.
He proposes having sign language taught among the hearing to accommodate the deaf in the hearing world.
Story by; Brian khavalaji.