Community Empowerment Through Support Of The Kenyan Deaf Athletes

From Left: Simon Kibai ,John Koech and Kokobi Omar.

How many Kenyan Deaf Athletes do you know of? I mean those who’ve participated in National and International championships and have brought home medals? In Kenyan history, there have been some big names including Hannah Wanjiru, Simon Kibai, Beryl Atieno and Daniel Kiptum among others. During the  Deaflympic Games held in Sofia, Bulgaria in 2013, Kenya won a total of 17 medals (6 Gold, 5 Silver and 6 Bronze) to emerge top in Africa and eighth globally out of 72 countries. Just like hearing people, deaf athletes have amazing talent that if well nurtured can help to catapult their careers and empower the community at large.

Sometimes it’s hard for some of us to relate to the pressures athletes go through simply because we’re spectators, and especially the deaf athletes. Deaf athletes compete in different types of sports but they have more hurdles to overcome compared to their hearing counterparts. Kenyan athletes focus on running as a way of escape from poverty and unemployment. Most of them also drop out of school due to lack of school fees and instead put their hope in running. Years back, there weren’t any programs to support this disability group but the formation of organizations like The Deaf Athletics Association of Kenya (DAAK) proved to be a great gain bringing the deaf athletes together for competition and social and cultural interaction.

In the past, the association has been forced to drop some of the deaf athletes from competing at an international championship due to lack of funds. This was a clear indication that this group of athletes needed support from external players. Supporting these athletes equates to supporting their communities. This is directly through the money they make when they win. It helps beat the angry scourge of poverty and this way the community is at a better place in general.

However, there have been other players supporting this group of athletes like the Kenya National Association of the Deaf (KNAD) a national non-governmental organization that was formed and managed by Deaf people in 1986 and registered in 1987 under the Societies Act. Other players like ICDC support The Special Olympics Kenya, which is a special movement established to support persons with intellectual disabilities.

Generally the growth of sports in Kenya has been catapulted by corporate support with various teams receiving support from the likes of The National Bank Of Kenya, Kenya Pipeline, Kenya Prisons, Nairobi Water, Kenya Commercial Bank, Sportpesa among others.

Corporates like Safaricom Limited through the Safaricom Athletics series that was launched in 2013 and is the umbrella banner under which Safaricom manages all its athletics properties has also been a big boost to the Kenyan Deaf Athletes community. There are other initiatives that Safaricom is highlighting through the #Twaweza campaign which seeks to look at how people can achieve more when they come together as communities. Examples of such projects are the Lewa Marathon, Ghetto Classics, and the “Hope for the future” race by the Henry Wanyoike Foundation.

“Our sponsorship of the National Deaf Athletics Championships has opened our eyes to the opportunities present to support our deaf athletes, who have emerged as a force to be reckoned with both at home and abroad,” said Steve Okeyo, Director for Regional Sales and Operations – Safaricom.

This years’ edition of Safaricom National Deaf Athletis Championships was held in Eldoret and Meru counties on May 23 and 24 and one of the winner in the female races was Hannah Wanjiru, 21, from Nyandarua County who topped in two final races.

Hannah Wanjiru on the left with other race participants

This is what Hannah had to say; ” I thank Safaricom for supportin us. I hope I’ll be able to pay my school fees from this when I win something” Hannah wanjiru

Title sponsor Safaricom committed Sh2.5m towards the two-day event, which the Deaf Athletics Association of Kenya (DAAK) will use to select the team that will represent Kenya at the 2017 Deaflympics Games taking place in Turkey from July 18 to 30.

“We have a great number of talented deaf athletes, but because we can’t take them all to Turkey we plan to use this event to select the best among them. We expect to select a very strong team of 35 young men and women that will help us cement our position as the best in Africa and among the top in the world, so we’re looking forward to a formidable showing by the athletes,” DAAK Secretary General Bernard Banja said.

Athletes living with disabilities participate in various sports such as the Paralympic Games, the Deaflympics, and the Special Olympics. Bringing this group of athletes together and especially the deaf athletes has been of tremendous benefit to athletes who have never been given the opportunity to strive to reach the pinnacle of competition. The more opportunities that are given to any type of athlete will result in more benefits achieved by everyone involved in the wonderful world of sports.

Community empowerment recognizes that if some people are going to be empowered, then others will be sharing their existing power and giving some of it up. Different Kenyan communities are a rich source of energy, creativity and talent. Better community engagement and participation leads to the delivery of better, more responsive services and better outcomes for communities. Success as a runner elevates both the Kenyan athlete and their community. Just like Hannah Wanjiru who wants to pursue her education from the money she got from the win, athletics winners  are encouraged to pursue their education and are opened to new opportunities when given the chance to compete in world-class marathon events. Winning means they have a decent income and can play a key role in poverty eradication and the reduction of unemployment in Kenya which staggers at 39.1%.

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