The Deaf Centre is a community based organization formed and operated by the deaf people themselves.
It is estimated that there are over half million deaf people in Kenya. Most of them live in rural areas and face difficult challenges in their daily lives. There are many misconceptions about deafness in Kenya, people often believe deafness is a form of mental disability and that deaf people have less cognitive capabilities. Sometimes it is even considered as a curse, or a punishment from above. These misconceptions and negative beliefs create serious barriers for deaf people to participate in society. They are often discriminated, it is hard to find employment, and sometimes deaf children are even abandoned by their parents or excluded from education. In Kwale deaf people used to live scattered around the county, mostly hidden away in rural areas.
Some deaf youth changed this and started to gather other deaf youth, to develop support programs to combat discrimination and poverty. This was picked up by the Umoja Foundation from The Netherlands who are financially backed by another Dutch foundation called‘t Groenland. They supported this development by constructing the Deaf Centre in 2017. Today, it is a beautiful compound with high standard facilities from where many exciting programs are initiated. It is a place where deaf people can gather for socializing, sports, and various support programs. About twenty deaf youth live here and they are involved in different projects that create opportunities for personal and economic development.
Sports: SPAT project
Sports is always an important tool for deaf people to get together and start building a sense of community. The Deaf Centre offers sports facilities like a basketball court and all kinds of sports materials, and in the near future a football pitch will be constructed as well. Next to daily sport activities and all kinds of competitions, the Deaf Centre is also the base of the SPAT project. SPAT stands for Sports and Physical Activity Trainer and is aimed at training deaf people as professional sports teachers. At the moment the Deaf Centre has educated three professional Deaf sports instructors and employs them as they provide sports activities at 5 schools in and around Kwale. This has contributed to improved positive awareness about deafness in Kwale. The school children at the schools that participate in the project have familiarity with the deaf instructors and know how to communicate with them. It is the ambition of the Deaf Centre to employ deaf sports instructors who will reach every child in Kwale. www.spatproject.org
“We are now independent in life and have been able to nature our talent in sports and win international championships” Shared Kidanga Salimini, the general manager
Deaf Centre Guesthouse: tourism development
Next to sports facilities, the Deaf Centre also has beautiful guestrooms, in total about 24. Half of these are used by deaf youth who live there, the other half are available for visitors. The Deaf Centre is working together with professionals from the Tour and Travel sector to develop a part of the centre into a professional tourist accommodation. At the moment six rooms are made ready to host visitors, and all kinds of activities and excursions in the surrounding area are prepared. Visitors of the Deaf Centre can participate in hiking, village walks, motorbike excursions, exploring natural environments, etc. The guests are hosted by the Deaf residents who take responsibility for hospitality tasks like cleaning, cooking, and serving the guests. Jobs are created for deaf people, and training and coaching is provided. After some time, Deaf people who gained experience with the tourists are guided to jobs elsewhere in the regular tourism sector.
Finding work and being able to provide for yourself and your family is a challenge for many deaf people. At the Deaf Centre, deaf youth receive training and guidance to develop skills and experience in order to find opportunities for work and income. For this purpose, several businesses are set up together with some talented deaf entrepreneurs. One example is a saloon in Kwale town that is set up by a deaf resident of the Deaf Centre. She trains and employs other deaf women, and helps them to open their own saloon elsewhere. The Deaf centre also exploits a restaurant in town, and develops a ‘shamba’ successfully. Produce from the shamba is consumed by the residents and sold in a shop that is attached to the centre. In the near future new plans for work and income will be materialized such as bead work, a bicycle and wheelchair repair shop, and a bakery.
“Helping deaf people to participate in the labor market is a very important tool to fight discrimination and poverty” Expressed Jos Wesemann, the management advisor
Social support: deaf empowerment and women emancipation
Studies indicate that women with disabilities are sexually assaulted at a rate at least twice that of the general population of women.” Shared Jacky Kowa, WWE founder
In our social support programs, deaf youth receive counseling about how to deal with their deafness and how to stand up for themselves. Our deaf young women are vulnerable for gender based violence and abuse, and unfortunately this happens a lot. Together with Women Wellness and Empowerment (WWE), a group of young women empowerment activists, counseling sessions and trainings are being designed specifically for deaf women. Not seldomly, abandoned and abused deaf youth find refuge at the deaf centre and get help finding their way in society.
The founder and managing director of ‘t Groenland is a successful entrepreneur from The Netherlands and grew up with a deaf father himself. He feels very committed to help the deaf people of Kwale to create opportunities for social and economic development. However, the Deaf Centre cannot rely on charity forever. At some point they need to manage their affairs on their own. For this purpose, a cooperation has been set up with The Long Trail, a social enterprise from The Netherlands specialized in community based tourism and development projects. They are working closely with the deaf centre to develop income generating activities. The guesthouse and tourism business is the main focus, but they are also working on organizing music and cultural events. In partnership with the Women Wellness and empowerment group (WWE) we are preparing music events that are planned to take place annually at Diani Beach dubbed The Diani Beach Music festival. The first edition is planned for November 2021.
“Let’s give the an opportunities to work and earn a living so that they also develop their lives like any other normal human being in the society” Shared by Madam Lydia, the senior manager