Nyangoma  School for the Deaf

By Fiona Atieno Otieno
Mark Ochieng Orwa

We finally reach our destination at mid-morning after a long bumpy ride through the dusty roads that lead to Nyangoma village. It was here where I did my teaching practice a few months ago, at Nyangoma School for the Deaf. Living among the deaf community was an adventure for me. I was able to see things from a different perspective and was amazed to learn how much nonverbal cues help us to communicate better. Working with these students provided me with a totally new experience and now, more than ever, I want to work with the hearing impaired. I met Mark Ochieng Orwa at Nyangoma School.

Mark is a deaf student whose school fee is paid by the Lillian Foundation. Mark is the third born in a very poor family. His father is dead; his mother is a small-scale farmer and, therefore, unable to meet all the needs of the family. However, with money from the Kenyan Constituency Development Fund and the Lillian Foundation he is able to go to a special school for his education. His siblings, who are still in primary school, are also able to go to school because of the free primary education provided by the Kenya Government.

Mark believes that, if not for the help, he wouldn’t have reached this far, saying “I would have a huge bill to settle in school.” In Kenya, students who are unable to pay their school fee beyond primary are likely to be sent home.

Having a chance to go to school has changed Mark’s life. Mark is deaf, but he can speak. He has been taught articulation, so he can also lip read. He has learned to speak and lip reads in Kiswahili, Luo, and English at the school. Now, he can understand and communicate with non-signers.

Within Nyangoma School, there is a primary and a secondary section. Sister Bernadettes Agula is the head teacher of St. Mary’s Primary School for the Deaf, and the acting principal of Father Ouderaa Secondary School for the Hearing Impaired.

“I have been a head teacher here for over twenty years,” says Sister Bernadettes.

primary school students
Primary school students
secondary & high school studentsSecondary & high school students

A challenge that the administration faces when admitting students is that some of the older children joining secondary come from different regions and, therefore, have varying signs just like we have different dialects of the same language. However, they are able to harmonize and agree on the signs to use in school. For younger children who are brought into nursery school without a language, the teachers introduce sign language. Some of the students may also have multiple challenges, including a few cases of mental handicap, in addition to deafness.

Because students learn these skills at school, when they return home to their families, new challenges arise. Students tend to forget most of the signs taught in school since they have different signs that they use at home. When they come back it takes time before they can readjust to using standard sign language. The school administration has made some effort to deal with this.

“At the end of every year we organize for a seminar where all the parents and even siblings of our students are invited. We teach them the same signs that their children learn so that even when they go home they just have the same thing and through this we can see a lot of improvements in the students’ sign language,” says Sister Bernadettes.

St.Mary’s School for the Deaf was started in 1961 by the Franciscan Sisters from Holland and it was initially located in Lwak. Later on it was moved to Nyangoma, initiated by the parish priest who had set up a mission centre here.

Mr.Vitalis the deputy headteacherMr.Vitalis the deputy headteacher
Sister Benadettes the headteacher

“The mission would take up child services within the community in order to be able to identify the deaf children since there were no assessment centres developed yet,” says Mr. Vitalis (the deputy), who was born and raised in Nyangoma.

Main donors include Terre des Hommes from Netherlands and German Friends who have built the classrooms, dormitories, kitchen, dining hall and an underground water tank. The Catholic Diocese in Germany also funded the school to buy a mini bus.

“The children are here because of sponsors who pay their fees,” says Sister Bernadettes.

The Lillian Foundation supports the school by paying school fees for fifty children. The Foundation only assists the handicapped children who are below twenty-five years and Sister Bernadettes is their mediator.

“As the mediator I have to go to the homes of the handicapped children and dig deeper for information and give Lillian Foundation a report once I have identified them,” says Sister Bernadettes.


The Lillian Foundation provides medical attention and corrective surgery and pays school fees for some handicapped students. The Christian Fund for Children and Aging, based in the U.S., also assists in paying school fees. Together, these organizations offer supportive appliances such as crutches, hearing aids, and eyeglasses. In addition, they provide funds for income generating activities for the handicapped children. These organizations not only assist the deaf children, but support people with handicaps more generally.

Sister Bernadettes says, “Now that I am working with the deaf, I should not only mediate for the deaf but also for other handicapped who I come across in the region… who need assistance.”

In addition to providing for the educational needs of these deaf children, the school also looks after their overall wellbeing. The students learn both to communicate and to accomplish the activities of daily living. This enables them to fit in the society without fear of rejection or inferiority.

Mark will finish secondary school in 2014. He is likely to attend Nyangoma Technical Institute for the Deaf and hopes to make a career out of teaching the deaf.