Nickson Kakiri remembers the day when he sat in his office as the owner and founder of Deaf Safaris Ltd., and he had an interview with a potential hire. The man who applied for the job and entered Nickson’s office was in for quite a shock. The person interviewing for a job with Nickson’s company was none other than an old school mate, a hearing boy who had brutally picked on Nickson in school because Nickson was Deaf. And now, many years later the tables had turned. It was the hearing boy who wanted a job at the Deaf man’s company. Nickson was one to forgive, and gave his old classmate a fair shot at the job. But it was a stark reminder of how hard Nickson had worked, and how far he had come.
Born and raised in Kenya, life for a Deaf person in a developing country presents more challenging obstacles than in most places. Basic communication access such as interpretation services, captions on television, and other social services common in some countries are nowhere to be found in Kenya. Regardless of what he lacked Nickson says, “Hard work was naturally instilled in me at a very early age,” and that hard work created opportunities. Very few Kenyans are able to obtain formal education outside of the country because of the sheer cost, but Nickson was fortunately able to become the first recipient of the World Deaf Leadership Scholarship from the Nippon Foundation, to study Government and International Development at Gallaudet University. He catapulted his education to earn a consultation experience at the World Bank, sit on advisory committees at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and to co-author a chapter in an Oxford University published book, “Deaf Around the World: The Impact of Language.”
He obtained his Masters in Development Studies from the University of Nairobi, and currently splits his time between his roles as the Executive Director of the Kenya National Association of the Deaf, owner of Deaf Safaris Ltd., and traveling the world to countries such as Mongolia, Hong Kong, India, and the UK to conduct his advisory work and give speaking engagements. He was recently appointed to the Board of Karen Technical Institute of the Deaf by Kenya’s Ministry of Education, but feels his work is just beginning.
Nickson had only recently won a fight with the Kenya Parliament to recognize KSL as a language and official business language of Kenya, and such distinction is now noted in the Kenya Constitution. He achieved this when he was the first Deaf person invited by the Speaker of Kenya National Assembly to give the state opening of the parliament. He used the opportunity to submit petitions from People with Disabilities seeking to have Disability rights recognized by the constitution on the Bills of Rights. “I cannot rest until I see a society that unites itself through language, that accepts signing in every facet of life, and barriers are made invisible,” says Nickson when he is asked at what point does he sit back and feel content.
While he fears that day might not occur in his life, he says, “I do not do things just for the sake of doing things. I do things for the sake of change.” Nickson is driven every day by the frustrations that he endured growing up, and inspired by the moments like the victory in the Kenya Parliament. While he may never find himself content, he finds satisfaction that his work inspires others.
Nickson Kakiri is the winner of the DeafNation Inspiration Award for Advocacy in 2012
By Anthony Mowl