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Inclusive Education for everyone

This image shows CBM ex-intern Anais Keenon guiding learners through the alphabet of German Sign Language (or Deutsche Gebärdensprache)
© CBM/Sannemann
CBM ex-intern Anais Keenon guiding learners through the alphabet of German Sign Language (or Deutsche Gebärdensprache)

For the International Week of the Deaf 2014, Anais Keenon, a young deaf American woman who interned with CBM for 5 months, shares her story with us.

This photo shows Anais Keenon ©CBM
Anais Keenon.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I am a deaf woman. This is surprising for some people, because I speak and understand English quite well. In fact, English was the first language I learned; American Sign Language (ASL) came later. These days, I communicate by using a lot of different tools: hearing aids, sign language interpreters, writing, ASL, lip-reading, English, and gestures. I’ve become very good at using all these tools, to the point where it is easy for many people to forget that I always have to work twice as hard as they do to hear a single sentence.

In May 2014, I received my Master of Arts degree in International Development from Gallaudet University which is one of the world’s only universities focused on the deaf and hard-of-hearing. The campus is designed to be a ‘deaf-friendly’ environment as much as possible: Classes are taught in ASL, dormitories have flashing lights as doorbells, and English is rarely vocalised on school grounds. For many deaf and hard-of-hearing students, Gallaudet is more than a school: It’s their home.
What did your work as an intern with CBM entail?
Up until May 2014, I was studying international development. As part of my program, I needed to complete an internship abroad for a full semester. Though I had interned abroad once before as a journalism student in Ghana, this time I would be living in a foreign land for a much longer time – nearly five months!  

I was thrilled be accepted as an intern for CBM International in late 2013. My job was to help document CBM’s work on an international inclusive education campaign organized by the Global Campaign for Education that took place in early May 2014. CBM offices and associations in more than 20 countries planned activities for months! I am proud to say that the report is entitled ‘Inclusive Education is for Everyone: CBM and the Global Campaign for Education 2014’ and will finally be available by the end of September 2014.
Two hearing-impaired children communicating in sign language at the Kambui School for the Deaf in Kenya. ©CBM
Two deaf children communicating in sign language at the Kambui School for the Deaf in Kenya.
Did you notice any differences between hearing and deaf cultures in the United States via-a-vis those in Germany?
My internship began in December 2013, but it wasn’t until early January that I arrived in Bensheim, Germany.Though I had been somewhat prepared for the cultural differences between Germany and the States, I was surprised to discover that I wasn’t prepared for the big differences between hearing and deaf cultures. Behaviors and etiquette that were quite normal as a deaf student in a deaf world at Gallaudet suddenly seemed quite strange for hearing people in a hearing world (regardless of international culture).

That’s not to say that my colleagues weren’t friendly. They were incredibly warm and welcoming, and helped me transition through many of the culture shocks I experienced. Any accommodation I needed they were happy to provide. For example, they moved their staff meetings to a different conference room because sounds echoed in the other conference room and made it extremely difficult for me to understand anyone. 

Was it tough to lip-read and understand native Germans speaking English?
Surprisingly, I found that German accents were somewhat easy to adapt to. As someone who constantly has to decipher sounds, the way that Germans speak English – usually in a crisp and slightly formal manner - didn’t tend to require as much acclimation for me as some other accents do. It probably helped that some words and sounds in German are closely related to English (and vice versa). 

I did notice that sign language in general (be it German or American) is not often seen in Germany. Though there is a deaf populace in Germany, it seemed to me that they don’t have quite the same level of recognition as a cultural community in Germany as one might find in the States. Most Germans I encountered were very understanding when they realized I was deaf, with the occasional slight puzzlement at why I was moving my hands so much at times.

What do you take away from this experience at CBM?
My internship was based in Germany, but I also spent some time with CBM offices in Belgium and Kenya. In the span of five months, I was exposed to more than eight languages, met dozens of dedicated and hard-working colleagues, and explored different cultures. Though there were challenges to traveling as a deaf woman, there were definite rewards as well: By the time my internship ended and I returned to the States, I left Africa and Europe with first-hand knowledge and inspiration of why it is so important to work for inclusion at all levels around the world.

More reading

International Week of the Deaf 2014

This International Week of the Deaf we are featuring deaf staff within the CBM family, and at our partner organisations in Cambodia and Gaza


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