Deaf Kenyan Lady:My American Education Story-Photos
I am Margaret Akinyi Odhiambo. I am the eleventh child of my parents, in a family of twelve. At the age of seven, I had an attack of meningitis that was supposed to rob me of my hearing and sight. Luckily for me, the only untoward situation was the loss of my hearing. That culminated in a transformation that my life trajectory passed through.
As a promising deaf child, I was enrolled at the St. Mary’s Nyang’oma primary school for the deaf. I sat for my Kenyan Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE), in 1992 and was later admitted into the Kuja Special Secondary School for the deaf in Rongo south, Nyanza. After graduating from high school my family had no idea of what should follow my High School Education considering that they have very little knowledge and information about/of deafness and deaf people in general. Most especially how their lives will be after they might have been educated.
Furthermore, not to be consigned to a life of dependency earlier in life, my mom suggested that I enroll for a tailoring course which I did; majoring in embroidery. Shortly after commencing this trade apprenticeship, I was among a fortunate few that obtained scholarships to train at a computer college at Gigiri, Nairobi. After six months of training I was, again, selected along with ten deaf persons for a teachers’ training program at Kamagambo Teachers Training College, in Kisii, in 1999. Two years down the lane. I graduated and applied for a teaching job in various schools for the deaf in the region. However, just around that time, I was summoned by my former Elementary School to come over and teach in the Institution, under the auspices of the Teaching Service Commission. Ultimately serving for eleven years in the establishment.
Besides, to hone my teaching skills and positively contribute to the empowerment of the deaf, I applied for a Bachelor’s Degree at the Kenyatta University. I enrolled for a course in Special Education, in 2006 and graduating in 2011, with a Second Class Honors (Upper Division) categorization. My desire for qualitative and quantitative education, apart from significantly impacting the lives of other deaf persons around me, was also because the training I got at the college did not adequately prepare me to be a teacher of the deaf but, a general classroom teacher, that was not my original desire.
It is on record that I encountered numerous challenges in the process of learning the best methods of educating the deaf; the inherent methodologies and other intricacies of the field of special education. It is also in the light of all these that I thought of continuing my education to the Master’s Degree level, an ambition that took me to the Gallaudet University in the Fall of 2013. The journey was not at all easy. The tuition and other expenses were astronomical and difficult to source for. However, a God-sent elder sister took up the challenge to support the noble goal, along with an American Peace Corps colleague that I previously worked with. The significant contribution of these kind-hearted persons “took the wind off the sail of my educational challenges.” With all that I was able to fly to America to achieve my long time dream of attending Gallaudet University: the world’s premier University for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing.
On arrival in the States, it was a mixed grill of experiences. First, the culture shock overwhelmed me. Secondly, the system of education on ground was obviously in contrast to what obtains in Kenya. Nonetheless, with the support and advise of friends and colleagues, I was able to surmount the hurdles placed on my path to cultural assimilation and the new educational experience. These successes culminated into coming out very successful in my Master’s Degree program and my eventual graduation a few days ago. Not resting on my oars, I have come to the conclusion that a Doctorate Degree in Deaf Education will be a terminal point in the scheme of my entire educational enterprise. Meanwhile, a momentous experience in the journey towards the Masters Degree program was the drafting of an outstanding Capstone entitled: “Teacher Quality in Deaf Education in Kenya.” The document is a prelude to what is to come in the future.
At Gallaudet University, the professors, staff and everybody on campus communicated with the unique American Sign Language (ASL), even those who are hearing equally do that. This is something I greatly appreciate about Gallaudet University. On the other hand, the approach to learning reflected critical thinking and application of learned concepts, instead of the rote approach adopted by Kenyan Universities. Though the process was challenging, but at the end I was able to adapt and came out a success.
The plan for the future is to return to Kenya, to apply what I have learned here, with the able support of the personnel in the Ministry of Education and other important stakeholders in the system. The overarching goal is for the deaf in Kenya to be as successful as their counterparts in America, who can pursue any career of their choice without prejudice from the society. In addition, I would desire a change in the teacher training regime in Kenyan Education, the teachers would be in line with reasonable best practices of the profession. Thus putting them in the forefront of the 21st Century teaching process. In sum, the ultimate goal, at this juncture, is to champion all that is good as far as provision of good and qualitative education to the deaf in Kenya is concerned.
Now that I have successfully graduated from Gallaudet University, the World’s renowned Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing University, I am very excited and full of gratitude to God, to all my teachers, and to all those who studiously stood by me to make the feat possible. I heartily say MANY THANKS!
-Margaret Akinyi Odhiambo