HUMBLE HEARTS SCHOOL FOR THE DEAF
On the outskirts of Nairobi Kenya’s capital city, there is a small school nestled between a busy railroad track and the Sinai Paradise slum. Its corrugated iron walls are painted purple and white, its dusty courtyard is full of rocks and there isn’t a speck of grass or leafy tree in sight. Little voices singing nursery rhymes float out of some classrooms but others are perfectly quiet, although I knew they were packed full of tiny bodies. I opened the creaky wooden door to one of these modest classrooms and was hit with an explosion of excited faces gesturing wildly, while learning and communicating in their own special silent way.
In 2003, a teacher named Beatrice Anunda founded the Humble Hearts School for the Deaf. I stumbled upon it by chance, while researching non-profit organizations before a backpacking trip in 2006. I was immediately enthralled by this school and set out to document it during my trip. I was curious to learn how the hearing impaired survived in a country, which was rampant with problems, and I wanted to find out what sort of futures were in store for these disabled kids. I discovered that despite the many challenges the children were faced with everyday, they also had a sense of hope because of the positive attitudes imparted by their teachers.
Starting a school like this was not easy for Beatrice. “There is a mentality in African culture that believes deaf children are cursed,” Anunda explained. Families often hide their deaf children and do not believe they are capable of becoming independent, educated people. Beatrice had to aggressively seek out the deaf children living in Nairobi’s slums and convince their parents or guardians that deaf children are worthy of an education, and that they could learn just like everybody else and become active members of society.
The school started out in a one-room shack with only three students. As a result of Beatrice’s intense effort to communicate with families in the slum community, and by establishing one of her deaf teachers as a familiar face there, she gained acceptance for the school and it grew rapidly. At the time of my visit they had 40 deaf and 130 hearing students in a 7-classroom building.
The children who attend Humble Hearts School for the Deaf are all extremely poor. Many of them are orphans, and some were not born deaf but lost their hearing at a very young age due to complications from diseases, such as malaria and meningitis.
The children range in ages from 3 to 18-years-old. They are taught the same basic concepts other Kenyan schools teach, including English and Swahili, but learn it all through Kenyan Sign Language. Often a deaf child’s sibling will also attend the school, so that they too can learn sign language to help translate for them back home.
A decent education is an extremely rare and costly commodity for any child living in Kenya. Although deaf children are Anunda’s priority, she couldn’t bear to turn eager hearing children away, so she added classes for them too. Hearing children are also taught sign language, a skill that could be a very valuable asset to them in this country where interpreters are sparse.
Once Beatrice convinced the parents of deaf children to let them attend the school, she was faced with another obstacle; many of the deaf kids lived very far away and it was dangerous for them to make the long journey and cross the busy roads and intersections on their own. With help from Angel Covers, a Broomfield, Colorado-based volunteer organization, which helps orphaned and destitute children around the world, Beatrice was able to add four small rooms on to her home. They lovingly call these dorms, which house 36 children, “Angel Cottage.” Beatrice said, “It’s a bit congested,” and that is a huge understatement. Four children sleep on one twin-sized bunk bed and the children who cannot cram onto a bed snuggle up next to each other with blankets on the floor.
There have been many improvements to the school since my visit two years ago. They have expanded and now teach 250 children, have a water tower that brings running water to the school and have installed latrines. In addition, the school was recently awarded a grant from the Vista Hermosa Foundation that provides each child with lunch everyday. This is a huge step toward improving the children’s overall well-being. For many of these children this lunch will be their only meal of the day.
It’s incredible how much the Humble Hearts School for the Deaf has evolved with its limited resources. The school is not only changing the lives of hundreds of children but it is also changing attitudes in the community toward deaf people.
Beatrice began by begging families to give these children a chance. Now every January, they are quickly filled to capacity and have to turn children away.
When the deaf children first enter the school they are malnourished, defensive and very withdrawn. Their lives have been extremely hard and most of them do not have any hope. Beatrice becomes more than just a teacher to these children and she gives them much more than just an education and a home; she is giving them a new start in life and a chance to succeed.
Contributions to Humble Hearts School for the Deaf can be made through the Angel Covers website www.angelcovers.org.