The Wezesha Story

The Wezesha Story - empowering people with deafblindness and their families in Kenya.

Making learning possible

Deafblind girl hand loomingNaomi Nasimiyu was born deafblind. Because of this disability, she could not attend school like other pupils. Naomi needed a special school. Luckily, the presence of vocational schools where Naomi could learn and get practical skills rekindled her mother's hope. Yet the vocational school was very far and Naomi could not travel to and from school. Naomi's sole option was to board. Naomi later joined one of the vocational schools, St. Angela Mumias Vocational School.

"Naomi was constantly out of school because I could not raise the required fees. Despite this misfortune I was hopeful my daughter would complete school”, said Naomi's mother, Evaline Wanyama

The problem Naomi faced was she was from poor family background which meant that raising money for transport and boarding was a big challenge. As a result her studies were interrupted many times. "Naomi was constantly out of school because I could not raise the required fees. Despite this misfortune I was hopeful my daughter would complete school”, said her mother, Evaline Wanyama. 

With the intervention of Sense International, Naomi was rescued. The organisation came in and paid her school fees. Evaline says it was a big relief to her, "The organisation's intervention was timely, and my child stayed in school.”

Deafblind girl using a weaving machineEvaline says the provision of transport also enabled her to visit other parents of children with deafblindness and learn what they did and came to try to implement in their own home. At St Angela Mumias, Naomi learned how to make necklaces, knitting sweaters and headwork. She is presently using these skills at home to produce items for sale. Her mother says that she markets the finished products to women groups, churches and visitors who visit their home.

Sense International country representative, Edwin Osundwa, says there are many students with deafblindness are out of school because of lack of fees. It is therefore necessary to help them access education.

Evaline and her daughter are among many people that Sense International has intervened and helped access education through the project called Wezesha. Since its receptio in 2011, the project has helped about 50 people with deafblindness access education in various schools such as Mumias St Oda, Sikri and Kerugoya.

 "We have paid school fees and also transport expenses for children with deafblindness and their parents or guardians," says Osundwa

The organisation has been paying bus fares for both the children and adults, ensuring everyone has access to education."We have paid school fees and also transport expenses for deafblind children and their parents or guardians," says Osundwa.

Teachers from various vocational schools reveal that prior to the project, most of the students with deafblindness owed schools huge amounts of money. This made learning in the schools impossible.

Apart from paying for transport and boarding, the organisation has also been helping in purchasing the technical learning materials. The materials are expensive and have not been adequate in these schools yet are very important for the learning process.

Independent living

Deafblind man using a hand loomMost people with deafblindness live with their parents, siblings or guardians - even in their adulthood. This is due to their disability. Such has been the case with Stephen Kintu from Kisumu who has lived with his mother, Esther Zewadde, in Kondele Estate.

Kintu joined Sikri Vocational Training School, where he trained in vocational skills and activities of daily living which is essential for people with deafblindness. After the course, he returned home and continued getting support from his mother and brothers. ''We used to provide all the basic requirements for him," says his brother, Joseph Kavuma.

However, the intervention of Sense International, a charitable organisation that helps and empowers children with deafblindness and their parents has changed Kintu's life. He no longer depends on his parents or siblings.

Edwin Osundwa explains that after the training they asked what they could do to assist those people who had qualified to start living independent lives, for example starting business that could generate them income. "These people had the knowledge to produce various products after the training. We only needed to give them a start-up kit which would generate money for them," he says. The organisation then bought and gave him Kintu a loom machine. This became a turning point in his life.

Kintu now uses a loom machine to produce baby shawls, scarfs and other clothing materials. According to his brother, Kintu makes over Sh 3000 per month. "The organisation has made my brother a very successful person," says Kavuma.

It is now a year since Kintu left his mother's house to live in his own room. The money he makes helps other members of the family too.

It is now a year since Kintu left his mother's house to live in his own room. The money he makes helps other members of the family too.

Odanga, a teacher at St Angela Mumias School’s deafblind unit who has been involved in home visits discloses that before the programme, the life of dependency for deafblind persons were miserable. ''During my visit, I found some of them sleeping on sacks. But the programme has helped them make money and live independently. Their life is now good," says Odanga.

Deafblind man milking a cowReagan Omondi, from Ligega, Siaya county, today owns a multi-storey garden that has become a model and is being emulated by his community. Reagan learnt sustainable agriculture at Sikri. When he graduated, he received capital  to buy a dairy cow and initiate  the agriculture project. During the inauguration of these projects, members of the community were invited  to watch Reagan demonstrate the skills he had learnt. The community is copying his skills!

Gilbert Korir, after graduating from Sikri, was given a dairy cow courtesy of project Wezesha. Through sale of milk he has saved money which enabled him to initiate another project of keeping poultry and currently produces over 90 eggs per day. "Among all my children, I find Gilbert to be just as good as or better than his siblings. We are drinking milk from Gilbert's cow, eating eggs from his hens and once in a while he supports our financial needs.

Although people with deafblindness face social exclusion, the story of Paul Langat illustrates that this can be overcome. After graduation, Paul was supported to initiate a dairy project  which he has managed successfully. The community has become  positive towards Langat  upon seeing  that he is just as productive. This has enabled him to marry and start a family.

Improving education

In the past there was no defined standard curriculum for the students who are deafblind in Kenya. Therefore, teachers would borrow resources or invent methods and content to teach their students.

Several teachers confide that there was no formalised curriculum being used. "At this time most of us had to be creative and invent any form of material that we would then use in teaching," admits George Bonyo, a teacher from Sikri Vocational Training School.

Working in partnership with Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD), Sense International supported the development of four sets of curriculum for deafblind learners for pre-school, basic, pre-vocational and vocational levels

Although Kenya Institute for Special Education (KlSE) trained teachers in deafblindness, the absence of a curriculum meant that the teachers found it difficult to teach. Sense International through project Wezesha intervened to address this challenge.  Working in partnership with Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD), Sense International supported the development of four sets of curriculum for learners with deafblindness for pre-school, basic, pre-vocational and vocational levels.

Mr Elmad Songe, senior curriculum developer at KICD had this to say. "Teaching that is not guided by a curriculum is not standardised and the learners cannot be easily examined. Deafblind education has lagged behind other disabilities. With these curricular in place we are confident that learners with deafblindness and their teachers are now poised to benefit from standardised quality education. We believe that national certification is now possible for learners with deafblindness."

Going hand in hand with the curriculum, smooth and seamless transition of students from one level to the other, requires that teachers are properly trained in the transition process. Underscoring the importance of transition training, Madam Bernice of Kitui deafblind unit says: "Before the series of transition trainings, we did not know the basic principles of transition. I remember when we, for example, transited Mwende back to her home we did not even inform her parents. When SI started the trainings we learnt to set up transition committees, involve parents and write individualised transition plans. These trainings have borne fruits because after the training, subsequent transitions were now smooth and inclusive. For example Michael Musembi's transition was smooth and he has since been integrated into the community where he runs a successful project that generates income for him and his family."

Today no learner with deafblindness seeking education is turned away because of lack of space

The few schools for learners with deafblindness have made it difficult for the learners to access school-based education due to space. Teacher Bernice, the head of deafblind unit at Kitui, recollects that in 2012, Kitui had 13 learners with deafblindness enrolled and there was no space for more learners to be admitted. In fact, four were on the waiting list for over a year. Because of the participatory approach of Wezesha where the views of stakeholders are respected it was possible for Kitui to suggest that their priority was expansion of the classroom. This need was addressed and in 2013 a new modem classroom was opened with a capacity of 24 learners. Today no learner with deafblindness seeking education is turned away because of lack of space.

Influencing change and working with the media

Two deafblind men making necklacesBy supporting teachers, parents and learners with deafblindness to engage the government on issues that affect deafblind education, Sense International has made remarkable success.

''While all other disability groups in the country annually participated in government sponsored sports, the deafblind were left out. This became a concern to us. We therefore approached Sense international to support us engage the government to include deafblind learners in this important national activity. What stands out in their support was that they did not do it for us but trained us in advocacy and lobbying and helped us develop a simple engagement strategy to engage the Ministry of Education.

Teacher Kandagor of Kabarnet school for the deafblind, who now sits in the Technical committee of the national Special Schools Sports Association of Kenya (SSSAK) explains that the engagement with government resulted into inclusion of deafblind learners in the national sports as well having elected representatives from schools for the deafblind in the National executive committee of SSAK. Deafblind learners now enjoy annual participation in sports which has also influenced the Ministry of education to include them in the National music competition- The Kenya National Music Festivals. This is a national festival for all schools, colleges and universities in Kenya.

Through advocacy, project Wezesha has influenced posting of more teachers of the deafblind to the units. A survey carried out in 2012 revealed that deafblind schools were understaffed. For instance, St. Angela Mumias had no teacher dedicated to the deafblind unit as was St. Oda. Wezesha project facilitated officials from Teachers Service Commission (TSC)  to go round and experience the shortage of teachers in the deafblind units. As a follow-up to these visits the units wrote letters for more teachers to be posted, subsequent meetings were also held with teachers TSC who have since posted more teachers to the deafblind units. St Angela Mumias for example has six teachers.

To create more awareness of deafblindness, various methods were used during the life of Wezesha. Notable among these was the partnership with the media. ‘Personally I had not known much about deafblindness. However, when Sense International first invited me to a training workshop on appropriate reporting about deafblindness, and my interaction with people who are deafblind and their parents, I learned a lot, more so, the language use," recalls Nanjinia Wamuswa, a reporter with the Standard Group. Since then, there has been coverage on newspapers, radios including vernacular radio station like Mbaitu.

Project management and sustainability

Project Wezesha was founded on the principle of participation and collaboration.

"This project is easy to relate with. Parents like it. Teachers praise it and the deafblind learners have fully benefited from it." says Francis Saya, Principal Sikri Vocational School

"When we started, we did not have an idea of what needs were urgent and pressing for deafblind education in Kenya. Of course there were many needs, but going round institutions for the deafblind learners and discussing with the service providers gave us a chance to know which needs were most pressing and which measures to put in place," says Edwin Osundwa.

To ensure sustainability, SI supported learners to initiate projects that are self-sustaining and productively engage the graduates. When we visited Gilbert Korir, his mother said 'My son is employed just like the rest. His dairy and poultry projects are his office."

As a result, the implementation of Wezesha experienced full support, acceptance and ownership. Mr Francis Saya, Principal Sikri Vocational School had this to say, "This project is easy to relate with. Parents like it. Teachers praise it and the deafblind learners have fully benefited from it."

To ensure sustainability, SI supported learners to initiate projects that are self-sustaining and productively engage the graduates. When we visited Gilbert Korir, his mother said 'My son is employed just like the rest. His dairy and poultry projects are his office."

Madam Grace, the Headmistress Kerugoya commenting on sustainability during the final project evaluation made the following remarks, "With a curriculum now in place, empowered teachers, income generating projects for our schools and more awareness of deafblindness, this project has shown us the way, we cannot now fail to travel this route."

First published: Monday 22 September 2014
Last updated: Wednesday 11 October 2017