Deaf educator, girl child education advocate, champion for SRHR, Mandela Washington Fellow 2015 and reluctant footballer are but a few of the ways in which Georgine Auma describes herself. A teacher by profession, she is passionate on issues of deaf women and girls with a bias to education because she greatly believes in the mutual exclusivity of education and empowerment. Auma is currently the director of Studio KSL at eKitabu where she oversees the production of accessible digital learning material for deaf learners in line with the new Kenyan Competency Based Curriculum. She is also the co-founder of the Deaf Girls Education Foundation with a focus on advocating for equal education opportunities for deaf girls, access to SRHR information, access to justice for victims of sexual abuse, mentorship and economic empowerment of young women with hearing impairment.
Her journey towards being a youth advocate began when she lost her hearing at the age of 9 after developing a mumps infection. While growing in Kano along the shores of Lake Victoria, she bore witness to sex for fish trade which greatly multiplied HIV infection rates within her community. This instilled in her a need to break the cycle of poverty and HIV related deaths she had observed in her family and community. When she began teaching, she discovered a grave inequality in access to education for deaf girls due to poverty which is often associated with forced marriages and teen pregnancies. This drove her to start the Deaf Girls Education Foundation and by virtue of her work, she was honored with a Mandela Washington Fellowship in 2015.
Georgine has made efforts to accelerate progressive intergenerational leadership and gender equality to younger women coming after her by mentoring young leaders such as Ahura Michael, chair of EALA Youth Parliament and training and mentoring Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights peer champions working in their respective communities. She also strongly lobbies for more opportunities for deaf girls to pursue tertiary education especially as Early Childhood Development Education trainers to ensure children with hearing impairments receive more inclusive education from the formative stage.
However, she faces several challenges in her work, the greatest of them being the communication barrier. Financing education for deaf learners has also proven to be quite difficult due to the fact that people often do not believe in their potential to achieve academically and are thus unwilling to support them in advancing their education. Georgine observes that navigating the world of politics for people living with disability with some being of the opinion that they are more disabled than others and hence deserve more political opportunities has proven to be quite the challenge. Negative stereotypes on deaf girls and women are still prevalent in society which in turn leads to them being denied opportunities to participate in advocacy and governance of issues affecting people living with disability.
She envisions a future where as many deaf children as possible have access to education to enable them break the cycle of poverty many of them experience within their communities while being informed and empowered to live free, independent lives. Auma also hopes to change the deaf education system to be more responsive to the needs of deaf learners; “Deaf learners are not to be fixed as the society perceives. However, it is the system that needs to be fixed.”
Opportunities for young women working in this space in the future include more access to higher education, owning their voices and advancing their personal agendas. This also includes taking up leadership spaces in politics, education within their communities and becoming personal advocates in their everyday lives. Auma’s struggles and experiences while growing up drive her passion to make the world a better place. Words like, “If Georgine did it, I can do it too”, give her reason to get up every morning and seize the day.
She would love to meet Michelle Obama, a feminist icon who did tremendous work as the first black First Lady of the United States trying to ensure that all women and girls all over the world have equal opportunity to success and happiness, which Auma believes is parallel to the work she does. Besides, she has her arms too! When asked what the International Women’s Day means to her, she says, “We get to celebrate each and every woman. Anywhere, everywhere, in whatever little thing they do to uplift themselves, their families, communities and countries. You are never too small to make a difference.”
Written by: B. Nyamwenge Okech