A Lifeline for Deaf Children in Kenya
The Chekombero Special School for the Hearing Impaired gives young people a future other than begging in the streets
Tucked away in the vast rural area of western Kenya there is a school that is an island of hope. The Salvation Army’s Chekombero School for the Hearing Impaired offers a lifeline for youth who otherwise might have no other option for their future except to beg. The school is alive with movement and surprisingly noisy.
Started in 1971, it was originally a special unit of the Chekombero Primary School. The need for a more expanded service to the hearing impaired resulted in its conversion to service for that population. There are currently 200 students ranging in age from five to 25 years old. The range of education covers primary, secondary, university and vocational school.
“The average student’s hearing impaired ranges from mild to profound deafness,” explains head teacher Ms. Unnet Makungu Umari, “but some have multiple issues including blindness, physical or other sensory impairments, and/or mental disabilities. They require a range of services beyond education such as hearing aids, speech training and computer-aided programming.”
In spite of all the school has to offer, sometimes getting parents to allow their children to come is a challenge. Some are reluctant because of the long periods of separation while children board at the school. Others hide their children due to shame, or to shield them from the government requirement that all children must attend school in Kenya. Others do not understand help and education is available, and their child can go on to live a full life.
The school has taken some of the corps’ property to squeeze all it can in a small parcel of land, leaving almost no room for recreational activities. It doesn’t stop the children; they find a way to make do, as evidenced by the miniature cricket game I observed while there. However, the other infrastructure needs are of great concern. In some cases, two children must sleep on a bed barely big enough for one. There is not enough physical separation between the boys and girls’ dorms. Presently, the boys are using a pit latrine that is literally a shack hobbled together with corrugated aluminum sheets. In a land of frequent droughts, a cistern system exists but is not operational. The school desperately needs a well to replace the daily treks to the river to fetch water. The kitchen and dining room are similarly inadequate.
Even with these limitations, the Chekombero School has made great strides. It offers sports, music, dressmaking, tailoring, knitting, typing, carpentry, computer skills alongside the academic studies. But it is the drama and dance program that may represent their most remarkable success. Students competed against schools all over Kenya to win the 2015 National Drama Award. Through traditional African dance, the students have learned to keep in rhythm by feeling the vibrations of the drums through their feet as they perform. The result is perfectly synchronized and intricate presentations that tell a story as well as entertain. The stories they create and the dances they perform are their own, created with the help of the teachers and staff. The students make all the costumes. Their props may be fashioned from discarded cardboard boxes, but this is soon forgotten as the drama unfolds. They have their eyes on winning the coveted trophy again this year.
The Chekomoboro School for the Hearing Impaired is one of the amazing services offered in the Kenya West Territory, but it is also representative of the kind of work taking place throughout the developing world. What is accomplished with such inadequate resources is breathtaking; imagine what they could do with more resources.
To learn more about this school or any of the vital programs offered by The Salvation Army around the world, please contact The Salvation Army World Services Office (SAWSO) at SAWSO.org.
Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee is the Editor-in-Chief and National Literary Secretary, The Salvation Army, USA National Publications