My Third Language

Peace Corps is a great opportunity to learn a new language. Even though Kenya technically includes English as one of its national languages, there is a huge benefit in learning either the mother tongue of a particular region/tribe (i.e. Kikuyu, Akamba, Maasai, Luo, etc) or the traditional trade language (Kiswahili). Peace Corps Kenya’s policies have shifted on language learning throughout trainings, sometimes focusing on Kiswahili, sometimes on regional mother tongues and sometimes on both, but in recent years the program has picked up on yet another language: Kenyan Sign Language (KSL).

Peace Corps Kenya was the first Peace Corps program to begin teaching in deaf education schools and in general focus on deaf education-related activities for national development. The program places volunteers in primary schools (and now piloting secondary schools) for the deaf as well as promoting materials creation (education resources, etc) to aid in deaf education both in Kenya and in other Peace Corps programs globally. Volunteers who are part of the Deaf Education sector do not learn Kiswahili or mother tongue during training. Instead, they learn Kenyan Sign Language, prior sign language experience not a requirement.

As a result, other volunteers not in the Deaf Ed sector begin picking up sign language. Two of my friends and fellow volunteers in the program are themselves deaf and both Shanon and Charlotte are great teachers when it comes to KSL. They are also, conveniently, fantastic pantomime readers for when I just don’t know the sign for what I want to say. With their encouraging, and also constantly bugging Paul who is a Deaf Ed volunteer, I have slowly picked up the KSL sign alphabet and signs for common actions and phrases, though my biggest accomplishment in my opinion was my ability to sign, “What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor,” at the training in Nairobi last week.

It’s the little things like this that you never expect when applying that make the Peace Corps experience unique.

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