Vanessa's journey to education

Vanessa Achieng

Vanessa is part of our Girls Education Challenge in Kenya. She tells us about her experience of education and the difference a hearing aid made.

Vanessa sits with school friends

Hi, my name’s Vanessa Achieng, and I live in Kisumu town, south-west Kenya. I’m the only daughter in a family of five. My parents run a small business selling household utilities at a local market, and we live behind our business outlet. 
When I was three years old, I began to develop some hearing problems, and my parents felt anxious about the situation. People around me thought I was pretending or just being rude or ignoring them.

My school experience with a disability

When I started primary school, I experienced a lot of negative attitudes. My teachers were annoyed. They felt I didn’t want to pay attention in class. My classmates would also call me names and bully me because of my hearing problems.

The problems persisted, and my performance at school started to decline. My parents thought about transferring me to another school. But before doing so, they took me for an assessment at the Educational Assessment and Rehabilitation Centre (EARC) in Kisumu.

The EARC confirmed that I had a hearing impairment. They told me I would need an assistive device to help me hear. They also advised my parents to enrol me at Nyamasaria primary school one of the schools taking part in Leonard Cheshire’s Girls’ Education Challenge project in Kenya. My parents were linked to a Leonard Cheshire Education Social Worker to request for my enrolment in the project.

How getting a hearing aid changed my life

I officially joined the Girls' Education Challenge in 2014, and the first step was to make sure I had my hearing aid fitted. I soon began to hear correctly and respond to the teachers like everyone else. School life changed for me at that point, and it significantly boosted my academic performance and social interaction with my peers. The teachers at Nyamasaria primary school had been enlightened and sensitised. Now, most of them were well-versed with matters of disability. I was able to cope.

In 2019, when I was 13, I completed my primary level of education in the same school. I scored 340 marks out of 500 in my final exams – one of the top marks in my class! As a result, I received a scholarship to cover the costs of my secondary education from Equity Bank through their Elimu Bora scholarship scheme. The Elimu Bora scheme provides scholarships for students in Kenya with financial needs who display academic excellence.

My family and I were still celebrating the good news when, a week later, we received a visit from the prominent Cabinet secretary from the Ministry of Education, Professor George Omore Magoha. He wanted to know all about my family and me, having heard of our success. He promised to sponsor and oversee my education up to University level.

With the right support, I can accomplish anything

I’m now in my first year in secondary school. The only challenge I face is the insecurity of my hearing aid – other students always want to steal it! I hope Leonard Cheshire continue with education against bullying and harassment of children with disabilities. I hope they continue to change attitudes towards disability.

My advice to other students with a disability is to work hard to achieve your goals. I have a disability, but I am also working hard. I am pretty sure that given the right support, I can accomplish the same goals as my peers without disability and even surpass them.

I’m very grateful to Leonard Cheshire for being there to support me and being a pillar of motivation in my life. I’m also very thankful to my parents for being so supportive and never giving up on my education because of my disability.

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