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Enabling Kenyan and US Connections Across the Human Network with TelePresence

- May 4, 2010 - 0 Comments

The Deaf Aid Academy in Kenya helps demonstrate how public-private partnerships can empower the underserved.

I wrote a blog post in January on Increasing Investment in ICT Capacity Building to Empower Persons with Hearing Impairment.  And now, I want to share with you what happened since then and the power of the Internet to connect people and drive change in the world.

The Power of Blogging

A few months later, I received an email from Len Mudrock, a Cisco software engineer in North Carolina who expressed an interest to connect with the students in Kenya and share with them his experience:

I read this article. It’s very interesting.  I am deaf at Cisco in Research Triangle Park, NC as a software engineer.  I would love to learn about this.   I went to the deaf conference in Germany and met a few Eastern European deaf people. They couldn’t believe that I am an engineer. I am thinking about being involving this if I could help deaf people in other countries in the future like a volunteer hours or a week.

In the meantime, I have been working with the Cisco Kenya team and had one of the first TelePresence meetings using our new TP in Nairobi, which was launched recently.  What ensued is what I like to call, “connecting the dots.”  I was able to connect Hital Muraj, our Cisco Networking Academy leader in East Africa, Len Mudrock and Marilyn Carter, who leads the Cisco Disability Awareness Network’s (CDAN).  We decided to invite 15 hearing impaired students and instructires to the session, with Len in RTP, and have the session videotaped.  The goal was to share how technology has changed his work experience as a hearing-impaired software engineer.

What is Possible: It Only Takes One Person

The students ended up telling their friends who told their friends and we ended up with 32 people in the Kenya TelePresence room, with a Kenyan Sign Language translator and a number of their instructors as well.   Hital Muraj, shared with us:

Word got around they invited each other! There was so much excitement! We were 32 in that room!!! We had only invited 15 students – but we really couldn’t keep every one out of this – word went around – and they all wanted to be there!   

Connecting the Human Network

On the other side of the world, we had Len with an American Sign Language translator.  It was an incredible opportunity because it not only showcased how technology can connect people so easily but it was inspirational to see Len inspire the students on what is actually possible.

The students posed their questions using Kenya Sign Language (KSL).  Hital summarized the experience: “Some of the students felt very motivated because they could see one of their own, how he has risen to a position at a company like Cisco.  Some wanted to invite Len to Kenya, some of them think that they can get Len to help them and of course, each one of them – wanted to come back and have another session.   We had to actually stop them from asking Len questions – else we would have gone on for another 1 hour or more.”

Feedback from the students was overwhelmingly positive – they would like to do a follow-up session to get some additional career and technology perspective from Len. Here is just a sample of what the students had to say:

Albert Omondi: I benefited from the session by learning new things from Len. He is deaf like me but has achieved a lot. We need to talk to him and others regularly as we discuss how the deaf students can be helped. 

Ruth Nyambura Wanjiru: I was very happy and thank you very much. I was very happy to learn about Len’s life and that he is working for Cisco. I really liked Telepresence. I wish to continue getting more Cisco skills. Thanks.

Jarvis Manyasi: I hereby say thank you very much to Mr  Len Medrock because has offered his skills and information and time for me and my friends. I gained a lot from him and I am interested in know more. When is Mr. Len coming to Kenya? I hope he can visit us soon and teach us the technology he is using in America

Fredrick O Otieno: I am happy and thank you for Tuesday when we visited the Cisco Office to have a Telepresence with a deaf from North Carolina in the United States. He told us that he learnt Information Technology in a college just like us. He is also working with many new technologies which we don’t have in our country. It really interested me and I want to learn more about new technologies and Cisco. I will continue with Cisco Networking Academy because I know it is going to help me get a job in a large company. When I finish my course, I will also work for Cisco like Len.

And it also achieved Len’s own goals in reaching out:

It was quite impressive to see deaf students over Telepresence.  I noticed that some students in Kenya use American’s fingerspelling and a few words.  I was not familiar with other words in KSL so the KSL translator interpreted to the ASL translator.  It was cool.  I was really impressed with what students said about their goals and life.

Deaf Aid

This is a case of Cisco technology enabling some very special global career connections across the Human Network. Our partner, Deaf Aid has, in the last few years, worked with the Government to create a Sign Language for Kenya so deaf people can have a common language and understand each other. This language is now being introduced in schools (there are very few schools or facilities for the Deaf) and with time, there will be a shared language for the country.   

When Deaf Aid first brings students together for the Cisco course, they had a challenge in understanding the signs students use.  As a result, before they can start the Cisco Academy course, they teach them the Kenyan sign language.   The outcome is that Deaf Aid have a sign language for the ICT terms in Cisco’s curriculum and they are hoping to take it to the Government and get it approved so that all Deaf institutions that teach the Cisco Academy curriculum have the same language.

What’s Next 

Be on the lookout for video excerpts to be made available soon!  I will also be meeting with some of the students in my upcoming trip to Kenya.

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