When we founded KSLIA in September of 2000 the twenty people present on that day represented the face of interpreting then. We were both young and old, novice and pros, we were male and female, black and white and we agreed that the association would look at the following issues. For the past 14 fourteen years we have barely touched on the fundamental mandate of the association. I would like to take a moment and look back at where we have come from, where we are and where we ought to be as an association.
Talking to many interpreters in Nairobi and elsewhere there is an apparent lack of understanding of the reason why KSLIA was formed, its mandate and objectives. This has resulted in KSLIA having fewer members, near zero activities and no secretariat. The apathy is reasonable for there are several contributing factors. The successive change of office bearers and lack of continuity could be an attributing factor – while it is a good thing to have new leadership, it is disastrous when you have successive regime lacking the vision or continuity of the former. This could be the curse of membership organizations while it provides for the sovereign will of the people it also allows for dictatorial and self seeking individuals to manipulate their way into leadership through short lived popularity, promise of a better tomorrow and often inactivity.
Between the year 2000 and 2006 KSLIA infant years saw a core group of leaders emerge and spearhead the push for recognition of Kenyan Sign Language. The founding members found themselves useful in this direction working with the Kenya National Association of the Deaf (KNAD) which was by then struggling to stand, suffocating in the murky froth of mismanagement, blurred vision and mixed up priorities the same curses of membership organizations. Despite the setbacks there was still little success – the Constitution Review Commissions provided a disability caucus that saw KNAD have a permanent voice through the Chairman and the representatives of women and affiliate branches.
Many of the interpreters grew in their work both in numbers and in fields of service. Much of the training of interpreters remained at the 844 complex, quasi association with the deaf and deaf organizations. Prior to these there was a series of regional training and workshops. Then KNAD temporarily closed shop due to lack of funds and frustrations with the funding agencies – Swedish SHIA. This did not dampen the push for language recognition. You may be asking why was language recognition such an important thing? Well, for Deaf communities to be liberated, governments and communities must recognize and accept Signed Languages as part of the social political and economic medium of information sharing and communication. World Federation of the Deaf says this about National Signed Languages “......State parties (national governments) should make their laws that allow for the Recognizing and promoting the use of sign languages.....to ensure that persons with disabilities can exercise the right to freedom of expression and opinion, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas on an equal basis with others and through all forms of communication of their choice....”
The long and short of those five or six years was it laid the foundation for the insertion of the words Kenyan Sign Language in the constitution – both the Bomas, Kilifi and Wako drafts. The emergence of the Deaf Aid white paper – that claimed in part that there was shortage of interpreters in Kenya woke KSLIA into action with meetings, elections, workshops and training of more interpreters in collaboration with Global Deaf Connections. These training created a movement that sort to raise the standards of interpretation services. The years following 2007, 08, 09 saw the association conduct several workshops culminating in the first and second National Interpreters Forums – the reports are available, these were indeed golden moments.
Comes 2010 and the Kenyan government endorses and adapts the new constitution. Many things begin to change. First, Kenyans Sign Language becomes an academic and exam subject in Kenyan schools – primary and secondary – the clarity, appropriateness and cultural relevance aside – it is a great step and achievement for the Deaf in Kenya and the rest of Africa. Secondly, the Constitution of Kenya recognizes KSL as one of the language the government would promote the development and use of, it also sets it as one of the languages of the bicameral parliament. This is an achievement many enjoy without the cognizance that KSLIA or the members that makes it were in the driving seat of making this dream a reality, of course we would not have achieved it without the presence, counsel and contribution of the Deaf community – KNAD.
Four years later the little gains seems to be forgotten. Many interpreters now enjoy the opportunities presented with the decades of successful advocacy. We now have many interpreters employed by the universities, media houses, local NGOs, private businesses and government agencies....much more is that many Deaf Kenyans have found opportunities to earn livelihoods. Amidst this budding success, there are turncoats spoiling the party. The sourpuss selfseeking and ignorant idiots are chipping away at the success. The monkey now judges the trees, there is little regard to KNAD nor KSLIA, there are various opportunities and sources of little monies and the facilitators of communication looks down upon the client and asks questions like – who is KNAD? Why should we consult KNAD? We are independent, there are many deaf organizations out there why should we look to one? KSLIA has no mandate to regulate, discipline or criticize an interpreter so they say-- I am bowed in shame as I listen and see reckless statements coming from various interpreters both novice and experienced. Maybe it is time we restate and affirm the core mandate of KSLIA so that all and sundry will know what they are and begin to appreciate the reasons we established it.
As a founding chair and long serving member of KSLIA, I will en-devour to endear you to KSLIA by answering the following questions candidly and objectively as possible. Hoping that by the end I will have convinced you to be associated with KSLIA just as a member or as an agent of change for the KSLIA we want for 2015 and beyond.
- To secure official recognition by the Government of S.L Interpreters profession
The number one mandate for KSLIA is to seek recognition by government. This is only achievable by the legal framework which most professions have. If you think of doctors, lawyers, teachers, secretaries or accountants there is a law that governs the training, certification, remuneration and business ethics. KSLIA has a window of opportunity with the following legal framework avenues available in 2015 and beyond.
Firstly there is amendments to the Persons with Disabilities Act – this act talks of interpretation services but does not define who an interpreter is, what they do or how to train them. Secondly there is the Language Policy law that the implementation schedule alludes to. Herein is the golden most opportunity to define interpretation/translation professions as central to languages. Thirdly the open door exists in creation of a separate law – KSL Bill I have called it so in my earlier article “Beyond Recognition of KSL 2014” Prosperity will judge us harshly if we squandered these opportunities. Why should I as an interpreter be excited to be affiliated with KSLIA? This task is huge to be left for a few people to manage, it behooves us to join hands and make it happen.
- Encourage and promote initiatives in improving the standards of SL interpreting and interpreter training and pay scale of interpreters depending with their level and skills of interpretation through certification.
With a legal frame certification, pay scales and standards will automatically be regularized. The initiatives here would include working with academic institutions, consumer organizations and professional associations.
- Cooperation with other recognized bodies concerned in the welfare of the deaf and in provision of S.L Interpreters throughout the world.
KSLIA need to revitalize its relationship with KNAD. Globally it needs to be members of WASLI, WFD and other regional bodies. There is budding interpreter communities in Ethiopia, Uganda and South Africa that KSLIA could affiliate with and join with.
- Awareness creation on Deafness and SL. Interpreters through publication of information materials
Apart from this blog, a few academic papers there is still a lot of documentation that is needed. KSLIA need more scholars, writers and researchers who will place it on the global map. The avenues are numerous with the advent of social media.
- To collect and raise funds for the achievement of goals and objectives through membership fee, subscription, contribution, gifts or donations, commissions and payments, fund raising whether in money or otherwise from both members and non members.
The five technical working groups – membership, training, systems, fundraising and publicity need to be nurtured and supported through an office with staff, volunteers and leaders. The only way to support this is to recruit members both hearing and deaf interpreters – yes deaf interpreters it is the only way to create the bridge between the Deaf and the interpreters world. Why should I pay my membership? It will help KSLIA be able to achieve the objectives above.
- To maintain and administer a register of S.L Interpreters in Kenya.
The key to the success of this lies in the implementation of the legal framework that would establish a registry. With an education system that teaches the craft, a certification system it would be easy to list all those who qualify to be interpreters and thus administering a register would be possible.
What is the mandate of KSLIA? As enumerated above, the mandate is very clear and offers us a starting point, to build a professional association it is incumbent on us to ask why does KSLIA exist? What is my role as an interpreter in Kenya in 2015? This club is nothing without you, by you and you alone can it grow. There are open opportunities to join as a student interpreter, a practicing interpreter – the membership fee is very affordable.
KSLIA salutes all past and present members who have sacrificed their time and energy to make the association work. It will one day pay and show, it might seem a bleak future with all the uncertainties and confusions – there is a ray of hope and light at the end of the tunnel – there are many new people joining the profession, many learning institutions are interested in employing interpreters and government is eager than before to provide access to information to its citizens. We are at the verge of a great time....we stand to gain much in fulfilling the mandate of this association.
Currently KSLIA needs volunteers to work in the five technical working groups or committees it requires lawyers, fundraising professionals, PR gurus, managers, trainers etc the list is endless. How do I benefit as a member? Well the benefits are not much remuneration wise, however you stand the golden opportunity to impact a growing profession in many different ways and build your professional resume. The networking opportunities both locally and internationally are immense,
Author by Jack Owiti, Former Chairperson KSLIA 2006 - 2009. Interpreter, Translator and Sign Linguistics Scholar - Nairobi, Kenya