As a friend to the Deaf People in Kenya and throughout the world, I have come to appreciate and be part of a dynamic culture, heritage and history of the Deaf Kenyans. I have met some of the most brilliant people in this community and worked with some very excellent programs working with the Deaf.
However we have had several organizations come to Kenya masquarading as missionaries of benevolence helping and giving hope to the Deaf Kenyans. This has become a multi million venture where people of great intentions are sucked into the unending cycle of oppression, dictatorship and neocolonialism disempowering the Deaf leaders and reducing it to beggers and sweets/cigar peddlers and hawkers.
In 1985 SHIA and the Swedish Deaf people helped Kenya form and manage a national Deaf association. 20 Years later we are back at zero due to lack of capacity and empowerement. This is not to discredit SHIA or paint black it’s good name, we acknowledge and are thankful for the benevolence and goodwill though we recognize there have been several mistakes and gaps in this process. Personally I still believe that KNAD was disadvantaged to be funded by one donor for that long without systems or mechanism for accountability and transparency.
Over the last two decades there have been several organizations coming into Kenya and establishing ‘great’ project ideas and visions. Sadly they have not learnt from the mistakes of their forefather – Perpetuation of the Mask of Benevolence. My opinion is that these organizations have never appreciated community entry approaches, view the Deaf as objects of benevolence and not partners in development and are ‘copy/pasting’ foreign solutions to complex local issues. Many of these organizations have fueled the continued oppression of the Deaf Kenyans, muzzled the voices of the weak and poor while ‘eating the ugali’ in their big mansions and driving huge luxurious cars in the name of ‘helping’ Deaf Kenyans.
As a Kenyan and a critic of these initiatives and organizations I would like to elaborate the key priorities of the Deaf Kenyans as expressed by faceless Deaf Kenyans in English and in a non threatening environment:-
Clearly we have the following priorities that need to be addressed:-
1. Recognition and acceptance of Kenyan Sign Language as the native language of the Kenyan Deaf people – It is the official language for business, instraction and mode of transfering culture and Deaf history and heritage.
2. Coordination of the various scarce resources available for this community. The Finance, Personell and Infrastructure need to be chaneled, phased and equally distributed to the key areas of need – Education, Employment and Environment.
3. Strengthening of KNAD or similar organizations eg KSLRP, KSLIA, and Regional branches of KNAD to better represent the Deaf from these regions.
4. Policy amendments – PWD Act 2003, Special Education Act/policy need to be amended to explicitly and implicitly talk about the Deaf issues – Language, Education, accessibility, healthcare – deaf VCT is a starting point we need the whole continum of care. Policy change is the begining, implementation strategy is very very critical.
5. Empowerment, Empowerment, empowerment – Deaf Kenyans need to be trained, mentored and see models that work. Shinning examples are right here with us – Liverpool VCT, DOOR International, DMI, Peace Corps/Kenya etc etc They are making a difference because they are educating the Deaf and giving them a chance to prove themselves.
I would like to challenge my fellow development workers and the directors and program managers to rethink the strategies that they are employing and to refocus their energies to the bigger issues
- Policy Change – Key to successful advocating.
- Education – Key to success
- Empowerment – Key to good governance
The resounding prophetic call is – NOTHING FOR US WITHOUT US!!! Those who hear and transform will be saved the hardliners will keep fueling the mask of benevolence and keep disempowering the Kenyan Deaf community – Enriching themselves pretending to make a difference with the little hand outs.
Join me in Halting the Mask of Benevolence and fight for the Empowerment of the Deaf Kenyans. The time for those advocating for change is NOW. Stand or be blown away.
Stop the mask! It is your enemy!
Jack Owiti is an Interpreter, a Trainer and a ‘member of the Deaf community in Kenya. December 18, 2007