Where in the World is Perkins?

(Continued from Perkins Insight eNews)

Photo. Young man working outside on a table with plants and soil

Theuri making briquettes.

As Regional Coordinator of Africa and the Caribbean for Perkins International, Aubrey Webson has known Catherine and Joseph Shiroko for over 12 years. Since their son Brian was a young boy, the Shirokos have been tireless advocates and community organizers rallying services for people who are deafblind like Brian.

It is estimated that 95 percent of people who are deafblind in Kenya do not have access to meaningful services and poverty among people who are deafblind and their families hovers around 85 percent. The Shirokos and Perkins International are united in the effort to reverse these numbers.

Because of scarce educational and vocational opportunities, people who are deafblind in Kenya have traditionally been stigmatized and seen by the community as being totally dependent on their families. Most of these families are already struggling financially. The community often sees a family member who cannot contribute and must be cared for as a burden.

At the Brian Resource Center, the Shirokos are working to develop the talents of people who are deafblind and encouraging family and community involvement in the process.

“First and foremost it’s about family and community participation,” Webson explains. “It’s about giving them their human dignity.”

Hands-on training at the Brian Resource Center enables young people who are deafblind to make products and perform tasks from start to finish. Trainees are exposed to all aspects of cooking and learn to make meals and take care of their own laundry and housekeeping while living at the center. They also bake bread, grow crops, and knit sweaters and baby suits all sold at a local market. Participants help take care of chickens and cows as well, which are useful skills for those coming from farming communities.

Photo. Older man instructs a female student who is deafblind

Shiroko instructs Teresia at her home

After acquiring independence through daily living skills and learning vocations, the participants at the center leave with the ability to contribute to their family’s livelihood and their newfound self reliance frees up other family members who formerly took care of them to go out and seek their own employment.

“You are no longer a liability and you are seen as part of the family by your contribution - it’s removing the stigma that your child is totally dependent,” Webson explained.

The Shirokos hope that one day Brian, now 21 years old, will be able to manage the project by himself. Apart from empowering people who are deafblind, the Shirokos opened the center to combat the community’s general negative attitude towards people who are deafblind and their families.

By challenging the stereotypes of what people with disabilities can accomplish, the Shirokos hope to decrease isolation, discrimination, and social stigma faced by people who are deafblind. One young person at a time, the Brian Resource Center is offering new possibilities to people with disabilities and their families.