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Georgine Auma: Educator Giving Deaf Girls ‘Ears’

Georgine Auma
Georgine Auma. PHOTO | COURTESY 

If you ask Georgine Auma what she does for a living she will say, “I’m a teacher by profession, administrator by experience, advocate by passion and mentor by choice.” Then she will pause and add, “I build dreams.” Confidence oozes from her pores. She’s passionate about deaf women and girls with bias to education because it opened doors for her. She co-founded Deaf Girls Education Foundation where she mentors girls (And earned her Mandela Washington Fellowship).

She loves football and was the secretary of the Deaf Football Association of Kenya that aims to nature talents in the deaf youth. She is currently the director of Studies at Ngala Secondary School for the Deaf in Nakuru and has a Master's degree in Education Curriculum Development from Maseno University and a Bachelor of Special Needs Education (IT) from the same institution.

She talked to JACKSON BIKO and was accompanied by Susan Thuo, a sign language interpreter.

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I would like to say a word and see if you can read my lips. Here. What did I just say?

(Laughs) I didn’t get it. What did you say?

“Karachuonyo.” It was a tough one, I know.

It’s hard for me to lip read someone for the first time I meet them. But when we interact more, if I meet you another time, I'll be reading how you speak and figure out how you say words.

Were you born like this or this happened later in life?

I was born hearing, but when I was about nine years old, I became sick with mumps, which caused this deafness. We tried hearing aids, but they never worked for me. Life turned upside down, but luckily, I had a lot of family support. I attended a normal high school and would sit in front of the classroom and lip-read what the teacher was saying. It wasn’t easy. I got an A-minus in my KCSE exams and was invited to the university to learn engineering, but was told that it was impossible to study it in my condition.

I changed my dreams, did education, now I teach mathematics, business, sign language and computers. I am very passionate about deaf girls education, because I remember when I was growing up, there were so many girls in my village who were dropping out of school and having sex for fish, which was a very big business. So when I am not teaching or supporting the girls, I am playing football.

Given an opportunity, would you study engineering?

No. I love what I’m doing now. I’m fulfilled.

You keep saying “deaf” which I imagined would be derogatory. What's the politically correct term?

Deaf is fine. That’s actually a good word because we actually feel proud of that word. It gives us an identity, it’s our culture. We don't feel lost. But if you call us “hearing impaired” it means that we have a problem with the ears, like it’s something that can be fixed. We don't need fixing, it doesn't need fixing.

We're full individuals, fully operational, and we're only different because we use sign language.

What are the advantages of being deaf?

(Laughs) First, when I see a nice dress and go into a shop to buy it and we start negotiating, I will win. (Laughs). Because I’m better at sign language than the other person, they will get tired at some point and say, “fine take it at your price.” Somehow people will sympathise with a deaf person, as if we are in pain. Another advantage is that when I go to Huduma Centre I will jump the queue. See? (Laughs) I get swift service.

I don’t pay income tax. Also, parking is free for me. I don’t have to go around looking for parking unlike you. Again, because I’m deaf I have excellent eyesight, twice as good as yours. I use my eyes to see and hear. The last is that I'm never disturbed by noise. That is very important. My world is very silent. A very peaceful world. So you'll find people fighting and screaming but I will never hear that. People pay lots of money to go to, for instance to Maasai Mara for the silence and peace. But I have my Maasai Mara in my head.

But silence doesn’t always mean peace.

(Laughs) Yes. Yes. You have a point.

What are your current challenges as a 31-year-old, professional, woman?

As a deaf person, the greatest challenge is communication. I’d love to speak to someone directly, not through a sign language interpreter. Emotions are lost in translation, so are nuances. We also can’t speak through her for long, it gets tiring.

Getting a job is also difficult because employers don’t believe I can do a job as well as others. Socially, I love going out to the club but it often proves tricky when people realise I’m deaf and retreat. But I love dancing so much, that’s the only reason I go to the club. I’m a good dancer.

So, wait, when you go out to the club how do you dance when you can’t hear the music?

(Laughs) I feel the beats from the soles of my feet. I can be seated and when I touch the table, I can feel the rhythm of the music on the table and know that’s a good song to dance to.

Amazing! When you met Barack Obama what did he tell you?

He is so cool. Actually, he knows a bit of sign language. He knows “hello” and “I’m fine.” It was a great honour to attend the Young African Leaders Initiative in 2015. I did a training in the US on civic leadership for two months. I shook Obama’s hands. He has very very soft hands. (Laughs)

What is the most challenging thing about being an educator?

Just to see the challenges children who are born deaf go through; starting school much later than their counterparts and not having a base language to begin with. It becomes very hard to teach that person. Also the school system demands that you must know English, and that is the language we use to teach. But for a child who was born deaf, then teaching English is very hard for them. You can teach them the sign language, that's easy, they can learn that. But when you tell them how to write in English, they can't. This means that when they get a D in school people think they are stupid, but they are not. The issue is that they can’t express themselves in English. These children are very smart and amazing; it’s only that the system needs to test them differently.

They say things happen for a reason, have you ever discovered and embraced the reason why you are deaf?

Yes. I believe that the reason I became deaf is to make a difference in deaf children's life. Because most of the deaf children grow up without a mentor. And they don't even believe that they can do anything with their lives. So when they see me, they are hopeful that they are not special, they can do as well or even better.

If you were given hearing for five minutes, what sound would you love to hear?

I want to hear “I love you” said in words.

Whoa! That’s deep, Georgine! Talking of love, how is dating for you?

Well, dating men who aren't deaf is really hard. Because most people say they want to talk and hear you. However, it's impossible for me to call you and talk to you, so I'll insist on texting and chatting, and sometimes people say I'm tired of texting you, I'm tired of chatting. So it's really hard to relate to that man. Not to say I’m looking for a deaf man but just someone to connect with. (Pause) I think I might have met someone, yes. (Laughs)

What’s your language of love?

Words of affirmation.

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