My Cross Cultural Experience – Bridging two worlds


My Cross Cultural Experience – Bridging two worlds
Nairobi, 1st September 2008

Hello, my name is Jack Owiti, I am from Nairobi, Kenya. I am Sign Language interpreter working and living in Nairobi the capital city of Kenya where there live approximately 3,000 Deaf individuals.

I am currently the chair of the National Professional Association of Sign Language Interpreters. I have been interacting and working in the deaf Kenyan community for the past ten years and I have interpreted in various settings including a bible college, conferences, employment and medical settings.

I spend some of my time as a board member of the Global Deaf Connection Kenya (GDC-K) as treasurer. I am also currently a member of a task force charged with developing a strategic plan for the National Association of the Deaf in Kenya.

You are likely familiar with the Disney song, "It’s a small world." In the deaf - Interpreting community, we often say that, “it is a small deaf world.”  In Kenya, chances are, when you meet a deaf person or another interpreter, that person will:
  1. ·         Have attended the same college as you (Gallaudet, NTID, RIT or another college with a highly respected deaf or Interpreter program). Or as common in Kenya, they have gone to the same school of the Deaf.
  2. ·         Know the same people you know, such as a former childhood classmate.
  3. ·         Have worked with someone you knew. (e.g., missionary or Peace Corp volunteer).
  4. ·         Have married or been divorced from someone you know.
  5. ·         Remember you from some past meeting.


I had another of these ‘small world’ experiences when recently attending the WASLI 2007 conference. In early 2004, we had begun to train educational interpreters in Kenya through a USAID/GDC Grant. Invitations and letters were sent to interested persons to attend.
One of the facilitators for this training was Dr. Daniel Burch, the former RID President and a current board member of WASLI . The training group also included Joel Runnels, GDC Kenya Rep, Kevin Warnke, a returned Peace Corps volunteer and a representative for Deaf Aid a Norwegian Non-governmental organization.  Last was Beth Uruqhart, a volunteer and interpreter of many years in the US.

During one of our planning meetings for this workshop Daniel mentioned that the WASLI would be holding a conference in July and it would be a great opportunity for Kenyan interpreters   I took the challenge and emailed my good friends and Interpreter colleagues in Kenya and in the US and began a fundraising campaign.

The U.S. fundraising initiative was lead by friend and past GDC Board Member, Cara Christopherson.  Together with several of her colleagues, they were able to marshal the support of many American interpreters to support my participation at the 2007 WASLI Conference, where I would represent the Kenyan Sign Language Interpreter Association (KSLIA).
The following is what I brought back from WASLI and what I learned from my experience in Madrid and how I am implementing what I have learned since.

By far one of the biggest and most memorable lessons from the WASLI conference is the bridging of cultures and the need for facilitating cross-cultural harmony. Right from the fundraising to the completion of this article, it has been a lesson for me that wherever we are as individuals and professionals we have a bond that ties us as interpreters together. I was able to attend a conference miles away from Kenya due to the help I received from a few interpreters in the US.  They answered a plea from one of their own. For me this demonstrates the unity and harmony we exhibit as interpreters working all over the world – this surprisingly is one of the core foundations of the establishment of WASLI.

The second lesson I learned from WASLI is that while the profession of interpreting is as old as humanity in terms of our work with the Deaf world we are still in the early stages of development worldwide. Some are advanced stages, such as in the US, while others are in their infancy like in Kenya and many countries in Africa and elsewhere.

I had an opportunity to share with the conference participants the Kenyan country report. This was not only a report out, but also a learning process for me – I had the opportunity to look at my profession as an outsider and I was forced to ask myself 4 hard questions – where are we, where are we excelling, where are we failing as Kenyan Interpreters, and what is the future like for the profession in Kenya? This was an eye opener for me as I gathered the facts and talked with my colleagues from the various regions of Kenya. The opportunity to share our report with more than 200 Interpreters from around the world, which was simultaneously interpreted into many other signed languages, was a very precious moment. I learned a lot from the interactions on the report contents and I was challenged to recognize that Kenya was indeed not alone in the struggle to make the profession better and improve interpreting service delivery to the clients.

Since the conference, the KSLIA has had its quarterly meeting in August. During this meeting I had the pleasure of disseminating the list of lessons (above) I learned and this generated an open forum for the learning and sharing of others. This meeting led to the creation of a task force to work on the developing a training program for the interpreters in Kenya.
I believe there are countless opportunities for the Interpreters in the USA to work with interpreters in developing countries to advance the profession of interpreting worldwide. At the conference we learned:
1.       Many countries do not have training programs for interpreter trainings.
2.       Many countries, especially in Africa, do not have certification/licensing processes for their interpreters.
3.       There is need for experienced interpreters to mentor upcoming interpreters.
4.       Resources are needed to help countries starting training or certification programs to prioritize, coordinate and build on available infrastructures and systems.
5.       There is need to import available technologies like captioning, relay, and video telephones for the Deaf in developing countries.
On behalf of KSLIA and myself, I would like to thank my colleagues from America and in particular the following people and organizations for sponsoring my WASLI trip. My special thanks to:

CSD Video Relay Service for sponsoring half of my travel, conference and in country expenses, Global Deaf Connection, Fundraising coordinating efforts of Cara Christopherson, Arlyn Anderson, Richard Laurion, CSDVRS Video Interpreters, Individual MN Interpreters and University of Minnesota Staff Interpreters.







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