is an entrepreneur who just launched an online learning platform for people who want to learn sign language. Her vision was inspired by her background as a hearing child of deaf parents. Sign language is the third national language in the country but many don’t know how to speak sign language. To plug this gap, Muchina established Sign With Us
, where people can access video classes at an affordable rate.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do? Tell us a bit about your background.
I am a serial entrepreneur. My background is in Communication and Social work, but in my early days, I leaned more towards communication; specifically, Sign Language. I worked for the University of Nairobi as an Interpreter for Deaf students, then moved to an International NGO, after which I moved to Mediamax as a sign language interpreter for 9:00 p.m. news.
In between those jobs, I ran a couple of businesses on the side. But, I only took business seriously after losing the Mediamax contract, where I started the biggest home cleaning company in Meru right now called MaxHub. Through MaxHub I got admitted to several start-up accelerators that saw us win Flutterwave’s award for creating employment for vulnerable women, and it is through those training I got to realize this passion in me of growing small things into huge success stories. I started an online business consulting agency; Biashara Goals Ventures which has exposed me to massive opportunities to grow with small businesses. At the back of my mind, I have always wanted to start a training for Sign Language, I started the journey sometime in late 2019, and here we are! I launched it this week (3rd week of March 2023). It is both online and physical training. Given how the world is currently being run, online training is the way to go. Covid showed us that you do not necessarily need to be physically present.
2. You grew up in a unique family set up where both your parents were deaf. Tell us more about growing up in such a household.
My family life was interesting. I actually didn’t know my parents were different until, like class Four when my Mom had come to my class and kids kept asking me why we’re “speaking with hands”. My parents were truly hardworking, mom was chef, dad a businessman. Something I remember in my early days was getting so mad that when kids were being sent home for school fees, I had to remain in school because it was always fully paid! Looking back now as a parent I can feel the love and the sacrifices they made.
I loved the fact that I got away with so much in school because no teacher wanted me to bring my parent and then end up interpreting for them, I mean, it’s already a conflict-of-interest situation. Another fond memory I have is my dad noticing my love for music even when he couldn’t hear, and he bought us a radio! For some reason that has always stuck in my mind how much selfless he was! A radio was completely useless to him, but because he knew it would make me happy, he got me. As an adult and a family woman, I have learnt so much from the woman my mother was, and even though most of my lessons from her were not verbal, from observation I have learnt how to build a home and take care of my family as a woman.
3. Was it a challenge for you to learn sign language as a child?
Honestly, no. I remember my dad teaching me the Deaf Alphabet. The rest just came. The alphabet is very important because that’s what you use to introduce your name, then you are given a sign name which the community (Deaf) will be identifying and refer to you with. I remember interpreting news, and family meetings at a young age.
4. What challenges did you face before and after learning sign language?
I think because I found myself in a family of Deaf parents, I never had a challenge communicating with them. Like, I do not remember not knowing Sign language. I call it my mother tongue. When I finished high school, I wanted to be a professional and so I applied for the Kenyan Sign Language Project at the University of Nairobi, where I got to learn quite a number of things I didn’t know. For example, the generation of my parents is not one to talk about sex education, I learnt about such things at UoN. From there it was bliss. I cannot say I really struggled to get into the Deaf community and start getting paying gigs.
5. How has the lack of sign language accessibility made things difficult for your parents and other persons in the community?
My parents have missed out on lots of information because of the lack of people who understand sign language in the community. Picture this, you are a parent and there is an important school meeting, but you cannot go because who will interpret for you? So many things surpass them.
Another thing is, most Deaf people need a sign language interpreter, and this is even during very personal situations like a visit to the doctor where confidentiality is key but is breached because a third party has been told to tell you you’re suffering from a life-threatening disease. When I raise some of these issues, guys ask me, how come they can’t write. There are some Deaf people that can read and write perfectly, but a bigger number can’t. They rely on Sign Language, their language to communicate.
6. Why do you think the country suffers a shortfall of interpreters? What can be done to address it at the community, county, and national levels?
I think the lack of awareness especially in the counties about Sign Language has played a part in the small number of Sign language interpreters in the country. There are many legislations requiring communication accessibility for Deaf people, and having a sign language interpreter during news is one that has been implemented perfectly. That with the parliament and senate proceedings. If all other entities could implement the same, there would be the placement of interpreters, and even a bigger number of our population would learn and practice sign language. For example, the doctors, nurses, the police, etc.
7. What are the challenges that the deaf community face? What are the unique challenges that deaf children face?
All challenges for the Deaf community start and end with communication! Communication takes away opportunities for being employed, accessing government funds, etc. When a child finishes school and they were in a Deaf School, it takes a long time for them to be integrated into society and get to fight for opportunities out there with other youth. Deaf Children struggle with an identity crisis. This is a child who is in a society that does not speak their language. A society that sometimes mocks them and laughs at them because they cannot hear.
Even further, a child is abused and nothing can be done because they are not able to report it to who matters about what they are going through. As a parent, to have a child who is special carries with it extra responsibilities, unfortunately for the Deaf child, their parents or guardians may not learn sign language, and so it is a lifetime of being misunderstood or never “seen”.
8. What inspired you to start Sign with Us?
I grew up having to interpret even very grown-up stuff for my parents. As a grown-up, I realize that shouldn’t have been the case. Even the grownups from my time shouldn’t have allowed that to happen. So I felt the need to have a society that is aware of the importance of sign language. There have been major strides in the last couple of years, but we still have a long way to go. I was inspired by the dream of each Deaf person in this country realizing that they belong and they get access to information from the family to the national level.
9. What challenges are you facing so far?
We are still in the early stages, and given the fact that I consult for business strategies, we have our target market spelt right. So far so good, we hope that the challenges we face we shall be able to learn from them and overcome them.
10. How else can sign language be made accessible for those who need classes?
Introducing it in schools as early as possible would help. Children are the best champions for change because they are so pure and innocent. If we taught sign language in the early years while building around Deaf awareness, these challenges facing Deaf people in this country would not exist. Most challenges stem from ignorance and lack of awareness. That is why a legislature with the responsibility to make friendly laws may miss to because they have no idea that a Deaf person exists, or if they do, what they require.
11. What do you envision for the future of sign language training in the country?
I envision an industry that will be big. Kenyans are so loving and accommodating. Packaging this training in a way that truly resonates with the people will take it far.
12. Inclusion is a key thing. What should people do to be more inclusive for persons with disabilities and then also specifically for deaf people?
Awareness. Different organizations exist and they should strive to do more to spread awareness of inclusion. Have laws in place to ensure that people with disabilities feel like part of the citizenry. For Deaf people, continue learning about Deaf culture and learning their language. If employers brought on board persons with disability, that would play a big part because they get to learn from the best on how to be inclusive.
13. Where are the places people can learn sign language both online and offline in Kenya?
I learnt at the university of Nairobi, there is a Sign Language Research project there.
▪ Emmanuel Deaf Church opposite the Railway station in Nairobi
▪ Horizon Sign language training Centre in Nairobi, and they also have several branches around the Country.
▪ Sign with us which is both online and has a campus in Meru at the Civil Registrar’s building, ground floor.
14. In terms of education what do you think can be done to make sign language more accessible in schools?
The only way would be to introduce Sign language in Schools, as early as Lower primary, as a compulsory subject like English and Kiswahili since it is the third language in our Constitution. Moving higher up, students can now delve deeper into it as a selective language on top of English and Kiswahili.
15. Any last words?
Sign Language is a beautiful language, it is the culture of Deaf People. Since the supreme rule of the land recognizes it as the third national language, we should all be intentional in getting to learn and be good at it. This includes matters of disability too. We should be a society that embraces persons with disability and having them in all parts of society without any discrimination. I would like to welcome everybody to Sign With Us, it is very affordable and we have a program that runs at your pace, and you get to pay as you learn. Meaning you don’t have to pay a lump sum and get overwhelmed with the pressures of life and fail to finish a course.
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