My training class left for Kenya in late September 1999. All of us were teachers, assigned to either teach in secondary schools or in primary schools for the deaf. We had a total of 20 in the training class, 15 were assigned to teach in the secondary schools, either in one of the sub-sectors of English, Math, or Science and I was among one of the five assigned to teach in a primary school for the deaf. Three people dropped out before the 10-weeks of training was over and then another dropped out two months into service. I had also contemplated leaving several times during training and in the first six-months of service, but after the shock my initial adjustment I became quite active throughout my service.
I was among the third class of deaf education volunteers. The first class finished as I did my training. We had one deaf volunteer in the first class (five total), one in the second class (eight total), two in my class (four total), two in the class after me (six total), and then two more in the class that replaced mine (five total). Few of us in deaf education actually had any experience teaching deaf children before Peace Corps service. Prior to the Peace Corps, I was professional sign language interpreter working primarily in the medical field and had just received a Masters in Adult Education in June of 1999. I knew very little about teaching deaf children. We received some training about deaf education in an primary school setting (mainly lesson planning) and training in Kenyan Sign Language.
When we were assigned to our new sites, most of my training class was sent as far east to the coastal towns off the Indian Ocean, and toward the western towns that dotted Lake Victoria, and all places in-between. I was going only 20 miles away to a mountainous rural town that you could only get to by dirt road. Initially, I was disappointed, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as I got a chance to be involved with the Peace Corps training center toward the latter part of my service. It was something I really enjoyed.
For my primary job, I served as a full-time teacher assigned to Nyandarua School for the Deaf in North Kinangop, Kenya. I served as one of sixteen staff teachers on staff. The school offered ten grades of study, levels equivalent to grades pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, with approximately 75 students.
I was responsible for the following teaching and co-curricular responsibilities:
Teaching: Year 2000 (Each term was about 12 weeks long) 1st term: Grade 3: Math, English, Science, Art, and History (40 lessons per week) 2nd & 3rd term: 4th & 7th grade English (16 lessons per week); 6th grade Math (8 lessons per week), 7th grade Home Science (4 lessons per week)
Year 2001 1st & 2nd term: 8th grade English (8 lessons per week), 4th-8th grade HIV (5 lessons per week); 1st-8th grade Computers (16 lessons per week) 3rd term: (Away from school; served as technical trainer for Peace Corps Training Center)
Co-curricular Activities: 1. Athletics Team Coach - Head coach for boys soccer team - Assistant coach for boys and girls volleyball team
2. School librarian - Started school's first library in its 30-year history - Organized and maintained over 1,000 library books and magazines - Kept records of usage of books by staff and students
3. Computer Laboratory Manager - Wrote a grant proposal worth $3,150 for five Pentium-3 based computers, a printer, and office and educational software - Taught basic computer theory, Windows OS, and assorted software packages (Microsoft Office, Educational games) to students and staff members - Established income generating Internet and e-mail services for the school
School Activities: - Conducted numerous workshops to improve student reading skills - Trained fellow Kenyan teachers in Kenyan Sign Language, culture of the deaf, and instructional strategies and techniques for deaf children - Trained Kenyan colleagues in grant writing techniques and assisted teachers in writing an income generating dairy project and water tank proposals
HIV/AIDS Activities: - Conducted over 20 HIV/AIDS lectures to stafff and students of neighboring primary and secondary schools in North Kinangop - Conducted over 15 HIV/AIDS lectures to deaf youth and deaf adults in the central and western regions of Kenya - Trained Kenyan colleagues to become HIV/AIDS educators - Planned, coordinated, and facilitated a national HIV/AIDS outreach to the deaf community conference in Nairobi hosted by Peace Corps Kenya
Peace Corps Training Center Initiatives and Activities: - Collaborated in facilitating a national Kenyan Sign Language interpreting workshop - Conducted numerous lectures on instructional strategies and techniques to fellow Peace Corps volunteers and trainees - Collaborated in developing and organizing a Kenyan Sign Language training manual for use by the training center - Provided training and guidance for new Kenyan technical trainer for the deaf education sector - Provided technical training and support for six Peace Corps trainees in the deaf education sector during the training cycle in fall 2001 - Piloted Kenyan Sign Language ACTFL language assessment test for the training center - Served as sign language interpreter for deaf Peace Corps volunteers and trainees
Additional Activities: - Wrote a proposal to Peace Corps Kenya administration to expand Peace Corps programs geared toward deaf populations in Kenya to include Health and Small - Enterprise Development - Wrote a paper discussing the problems and issues of education of the deaf in Kenya - Conducted Kenyan Sign Language training to 15 hearing worked at the Oserian Flower Farm in Naivasha
Thoughts and reflections of my Peace Corps experience: There's hardly a day that goes by when I don't think about my two years that I served in Kenya with the Peace Corps. The first year of service was a tremendous psychological struggle of feeling extremely isolated and alone in a country that was so different than what I was used to. The constant greetings of "How are you" said in a nasal pitch was cute the first 20 times, but quite annoying after the 10,000 time. I could never understand why hotels always had bars that blared music until 3am, and why religious revivals were allowed to blare all night long and keep everyone up within a one mile radius. Despite some of these negatives, I learned so much about myself, I accomplished a lot, grew tremendously as a person, and made lifelong memories and friends. My Peace Corps experience has certainly changed me and how I view Kenya, the African continent, and much of the world.
Current major life paths because of Peace Corps service. Currently, I am at the University of Illinois pursuing doctoral degree in Educational Psychology with an interest in the language development and socialization of deaf children. It's a field of study I never would have even considered before Peace Corps service. It took a Kenyan colleague to suggest the idea to me for me to realize what an ideal field of study it was for me and again I am forever indebted to my friends I made in Kenya.
One of the initial attractions that both my wife and I had toward each other was that we spent significant time abroad before we met each other. She spent two years in Russia and I spent time in Kenya. We met just a few months after I returned from service. We currently have a beautiful and very happy little toddler who wreaks havoc throughout the house while laughing and giggling the whole time.