Monicah Tenai: Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young Africa Leaders Initiative

A group photo of some of my classmates with Miss Monicah Tenai (presenter) in the center of the group.

A group photo of some of my classmates with the presenter Miss Monicah Tenai in the center of the group.

One of the things I love about Gallaudet is the large amount of access to free professional learning events, on campus. The Gallaudet community also receives a lot of inside information on conferences and workshops happening off campus which are heavily discounted for students or free. These events address a variety of interesting topics such as linguistics, multicultural education, cultural and religious issues and deaf education.

On Tuesday, 23rd September last week, I had the privilege of watching Ms Monicah Tenai’s presentation right here on campus. It left a deep impression on me.

Ms Tenai, shared her life journey as an African Deaf woman, about her YALI fellowship, her experience as an intern with the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), and how she has worked to improve outcomes and quality of life for Deaf people in Kenya.

Ms Tenai became deaf at 10 years old. She continued her enrollment in the regular school until standard 5. After that she went to a secondary school for the Deaf. She then went to a regular college to study Early Childhood Development where she was the only Deaf student.

The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders

Later on, Ms Tenai applied to The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, an initiative by President Obama to invest in the future of Africa. 500 young Africans were selected for the program out of approximately 50,000 applicants. Of the 500 successful applicants only 2 were Deaf. Ms Tenai was one of the 2 Deaf candidates.

The 500 Mandela Washington Fellows arrived in June 2014 for 6 weeks of intensive executive leadership training, networking, and skills building.  During the program, young African leaders developed the skills and networks they needed to advance their career prospects. The aim was for them to use their skills to contribute further to strengthening government institutions, promoting economic growth, and enhancing peace and security in Africa.

Ms Tenai attended Yale University for 6 weeks where she learnt more about business, financial management and development work. After the 6 weeks training program, all the 500 fellows met President Obama at a Presidential Summit in Washington, DC. From there 100 of the 500 Africans were selected to remain the the U.S for an internship while the rest returned to Africa. Ms Tenai secured an internship at the NAD where she was mentored by a Deaf professional.

Challenges Deaf people face in Africa

Ms Tenai shared the challenges that Deaf people in Africa faced such as lack of access to captions, no video relay phones, lack of interpreters and interpreter training. Deaf students at university had to pay for their educational fees as well as for their own interpreters. As a result, many resort to copying notes from the hearing students instead. She also mentioned that in Africa, many Deaf women end up getting married and starting a family. They do not receive the education they need and she stressed the importance of Deaf women needing to be educated and empowered.

Little Rock Early Childhood Development Center

Ms Tenai proceeded to share about her work as a teacher of Deaf children. She showed the audience a video titled “Deaf role models in Africa, Kenya”. It was an eye-opener learning about the Little Rock Early Childhood Development (ECD) Center located in the slums of Kibera. The school was set up to provide education for the vulnerable kids in the area. It adopts an inclusive education philosophy; hearing children, Deaf children and children with other disabilities from ages 3 to 8 are enrolled at the school. Some of the hearing children at the school have Deaf parents. To my surprise, I learnt that all the children are taught sign language regardless of their ability to hear or their disability. Ms Tenai said it was important for the Deaf children to be included in the hearing community or they would feel isolated. Here is the video that was shown during the presentation. I encourage you to watch it. 🙂

Never in my wildest dreams, have I imagined that an inclusive school like Little Rock ECD would exist in Africa. It made me question why Singapore, being a developed country has not established even one school that adopts the inclusive education policy where both hearing and Deaf children communicate in sign language. The Singapore government can easily afford the funds to set up one.

I am a strong advocator of the inclusive education philosophy. To me there is no such thing as the Deaf world and the Hearing world. Rather, they are two cultures in one world. I used to think that Deaf schools were the way to go but after gaining experience in two mainstream settings in Melbourne this year,  my philosophy on education has changed. I strongly believe that Deaf and hearing children should be educated in the same classroom with sign language as the main language of instruction in the classroom to bridge the communication gap. Both Deaf and hearing children can have full access to communication and equality between both groups are promoted. There is much value in inclusive education.

I realize that if an impoverished place like Kibera can be successful in implementing an inclusive education center and overcome the odds they face, then it is very possible for more inclusive education centers like the Little Rock ECD to be established anywhere else in the world. It can be done as long as the right professionals are put in place in those educational settings.

The words of the school motto: “Turning early years scars into stars” really touched my heart because it means that no matter how dire the children’s circumstances are, an inclusive education can give them the chance to turn their lives around and to blossom as individuals.

Here at Gallaudet, I frequently meet people like Ms Tenai who dare to dream and have the courage to pursue their dreams. They aspire to make the world a better place. This makes my experience at Gally even more enriching. I am looking forward to meeting more individuals like her in time to come. 🙂

If you are interested in finding out more information about the Little Rock Early Childhood Development Center or making a donation to the school, feel free to visit their website


2 thoughts on “Monicah Tenai: Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young Africa Leaders Initiative

  1. I’m impressed by your determination to give these young African children who will grow to become the leaders of tomorrow hope for the future, God bless you!
    Keep up the good work!

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