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"In Asia Pacific, there are 370 million persons with disabilities, 238 million of them of working age. Their unemployment rate is usually double that of the general population and often as high as 80% or more" - Debra A Perry ‘Disability issues in the employment and social protection, 2002 (sourced in the UN Enable Factsheet on Disability & Employment, 2011)
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CBM co-worker Mr Joseph Morrissey retires

Two men and a boy. One man is a doctor, examining the boy with a stethoscope
Joe Morrissey (right) observes while Dr Hans de Bruijn examines a child at Kerugoya School for the Deaf, 1978.

Sian Tesni interviews Mr. Joseph Morrissey, a CBM co-worker who has retired after over 40 years working as a teacher for deaf persons in Africa.

The legacy continues

CBM co-worker Mr. Joseph Morrissey has retired after over 40 years working as a teacher of deaf persons in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, & Somaliland.

From being a self-funded volunteer, he became a CBM Co-worker and later an Advisor for CBM in the East Africa Region. His expertise was in the education of persons who are deaf, hard of hearing or deafblind. His legacy is seen through the large number of deaf and deafblind people he has educated over the years. Several of these contribute to CBM’s current work in this field.

Read more, as Sian Tesni, CBM Senior Advisor in Education, interviews Mr Morrissey:

Joe Morrissey ©CBM
Joe Morrissey (left) at Msandaka School for the Deaf (part of CCBRT - Comprehensive Community Based Rehabilitation Tanzania) in Moshi, Tanzania, 2011
Sian: Your commitment to changing the lives of people who are deaf, hard of hearing and deafblind has been evident to me from the moment I first met you in Bensheim in 1994. However can you tell us a little about your background, where you came from, and what took you to East Africa?

I was born in the States to Irish-Italian parentage. Once I’d qualified and had some experience of teaching in the States, I applied to Peace Corps to become a teacher. This was in 1969. I was fortunate enough to be given the position of English teacher at Ngora High School, Teso District, near Lake Kyoga in Eastern Uganda.
Sian: So at this point you were not a teacher of the deaf. How was it that you became interested in this work?

I had worked with intellectually impaired and emotional disturbed children before joining Peace Corps, so when Ngora Unit for the Deaf was started in the same training centre in 1969, I transferred to working with young people who were deaf.
Sian: That must have been quite something, how did you manage with the communication, teaching methodology etc?

I was fortunate enough to be trained by a Ugandan teacher of the deaf, the late Sandrino Nyang. He taught me all I was able to learn. I then stayed at at Ngora until December '71.
Sian: What happened when you completed your Peace Corps contract?

I realised that even though I had learnt a great deal on the job, there was much more to learn. I had fallen in love with the country and with teaching deaf children by then. I decided to return to the States and trained as a teacher of the deaf, specialising in teaching children who are deaf with multiple-disabilities. This was the beginning of a journey which has been a vocation and a privilege to be a part of.
children surrounding an adult in Africa ©CBM
Joe Morrissey at Kerugoya School for the Deaf (new site), 1979
Sian: How did you then get back to East Africa?

I knew East Africa is where I wanted to return, so I arrived in Nairobi, Kenya in November 1973, with new skills and enthusiasm. Idi Amin was still the leader of Uganda, so I was denied even a tourist visa to enter Uganda. I was determined to stay in East Africa, so I settled in Kenya.

I became a volunteer with the Kenya Society for Deaf Children in December 1973. In January 1974, I joined Kerugoya School for the Deaf, Kirinyaga District, Central Province, Kenya . I became the headmaster and helped develop Kerugoya to be a primary school with vocational training, and adult literacy through a 'late-starter' class. The emphasis was on communication. I was employed locally for ten years. My starting salary was with $100 per month.
a young man wearing a CBM t-shirt ©CBM
Imalingat of Uganda who taught me (Joe Morrissey) about being deafblind
Sian: From there you became a CBM co-worker, what difference did this make to you?

Becoming a CBM co-worker was a great experience for me. I was able to help develop the services of the school generally, strengthen the programme and develop a unit for children who were deafblind. This gave me the opportunity to advocate for the rights of people who were deaf & deafblind and encourage health programmes for them. We had many students who were deaf and born HIV+ and those who joined the education programmes when they had full blown Aids or developed Aids later in life.
two men communicating by touching hands/fingers (one is deafblind) ©CBM
Joe communicating with Luka, from Tanzania, who is deafblind
Sian: That sounds like the beginning of a lifelong commitment to the championing of the rights of deaf and deafblind people. However you worked with other CBM programmes too didn’t you?

Since joining cbm in 1984, and I had fortunate enough to work in a number of programmes in my roles as CBM’s Special Education Advisor for the East Africa Regional Office, working at Uganda School for the Deaf, Ngora School for the Deaf, Kabarnet School for the Deafblind in Kenya. My last role for CBM for the last 6 years was as education advisor for cbm country co-ordinator – Tanzania.
A man standing in Africa ©CBM
"I remember very well Mohamud, a deaf man from nomadic Wajir told me that if had not accessed primary education at Kerugoya School for the Deaf, and been supported by CBM to join the inclusive secondary education in Kenya, he would be no one." Joseph Morrissey.
Sian: That’s a very impressive CV Joe, but what did the work entail?

Joe: I was involved in many important developments. One of these involved encouraging the governments of Kenya, Uganda, & Tanzania to improve and expand services for people who are deaf, hard of hearing or deafblind (these developed within existing programmes for the Schools for the Deaf / Blind).

In additional to the educational work, I was also involved in medical work. This aspect was emphasised through including aspects of ear and hearing care in educational and CBR programmes . The emphasis was on early identification and management of ear diseases like chronic otitis media & cholesteatoma. In response to this great need for raising awareness in ear and hearing care, the starting of 'Operation Ear Drop, Kenya.  A concern I’ve had over the years is the prevention of congenital Rubella syndrome and immunisation against meningitis.

In the 1980’s CBM started the  'individual aid scheme' which gave small amounts of money to individual persons with a disability  in Kenya to receive an orthopaedic aid, continue with education, vocational training, or receive a tool kit, sewing machine, or knitting machine after successful completion of training. This programme also encouraged the right to better health through subsidised orthopaedic, reconstructive and ENT surgeries as well as low vision devices. This was life-changing for so many deaf people.

Another exciting programme was developing services for people with hearing loss amongst the nomadic tribes of Wajir, Kenya. This was led by deaf adults from Wajir, who had been education at Kerugoya School for the Deaf. They became Kenyan deaf role models and started services for other deaf children at Borama School for the Deaf, Somaliland. These were the first deaf Somalis to access education in Somaliland, Somalia, & Djibouti. There are now 25 deaf receiving inclusive secondary education and 4 attending at Amoud University, Somaliland, supported by sign language interpreters.

I remember very well Mohamud, a deaf man from nomadic Wajir told me that if had not accessed primary education at Kerugoya School for the Deaf, and been supported by CBM to join the inclusive secondary education in Kenya, he would be no one. He said that without this opportunity, he would have remained an illiterate camel herder, bound by tradition, trapped in a traditional nomadic culture.  Mohamud said that I made him who he is. I corrected him, by saying that he made himself, I only enabled him to reach his potential.

Mohamud is currently completing his studies to be a kindergarten teacher, enabled by the education he has  received, realising his dream to teach young deaf children, and able to advocate for equal rights for the deaf in the nomadic Somali culture. 

When I reflect on the development of the early Schools for the Deaf, such as Borama School for the Deaf, I am aware of the wealth of  trained teachers who have gone on to start programmes for deaf in Djibouti  (2) Djibouti city & Ali-Sabieh as well as Somaliland (3) Hargeisa & Burao.

I remember with great joy a very important milestone when the first Somalis with a visual impairment  sat their primary examinations in 2011, and enrolled in an inclusive secondary school in 2012, in Borama, Somaliland. A Braille transcriber made it possible for people who are blind to access information at the school.
Sian: You have enough experience and expertise to write a book here Joe. This is certainly an impressive experience and a rich legacy you have been able to leave, thousands of people who are deaf, hard of hearing, deafblind or with visual impairment across East Africa. When you reflect on all this, how do you feel?

I feel so lucky and rewarded to have worked with people who are deaf or deafblind and their families from Kenya, Uganda, & Tanzania to reach a better quality of life, over a span of 41 years. They have been enabled, have taken up the challenge, succeeded, become advocates, and role models.  They have humbled me and taught me so much.
Sian: I would like to say what a privilege it has been for me to have worked with you over the last couple of decades. You have been a committed educator and advocate for all in your care. You are a gentle, humorous man with a deep sense of loyalty and justice. I could say more, but I wonder if there’s anything else you would like to say as we draw this interview to an end.

Joe: I would like to thank CBM for their support, understanding, encouragement, and sensitivity in supporting my work in Kenya, Uganda, & Tanzania for the last 28 years so that people who are deaf, hard of hearing or deafblind are someone, enjoying their human rights, & able to dream of a better life.  The work is just beginning, so much more needs to be done, and the best is yet to come.

Asante sana, CBM.

Read more

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CBM’s programme work is built on the principles of a human-rights based approach to disability and disability inclusive development in East Africa


International Week of the Deaf 2012

CBM celebrates International Week of the Deaf, which is an opportunity to promote the human rights of deaf people everywhere


Mr. Joseph Morrissey

Mr. Joseph Morrissey


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