Meet Karen

“Africa has a lot of talent and this talent is found in Persons with Disabilities”

Karen Ngugi’s face lights up as she emphatically signs this statement.

Thanks to opportunities provided through Next Step Foundation, she is now not only hopeful for her own economic future, she believes there exists hope for all African Persons with Disabilities.

Karen lost her hearing at age 4 as a result of an outbreak of spinal meningitis. The disease made her quite sick and her parents feared she may not survive. Although she fully recovered, she never regained her hearing.

Karen’s parents, deliberately ignoring the commonly held African belief disabilities arise from a curse placed upon the family, never wavered in their support.

I remember my dad teaching me to lip read and speak.” Karen signs while smiling. “When I would talk a ‘funny way’ he would repeat himself and train me to pronounce correctly. My parents have shown me love. That’s why I’m here”.

A supportive home life, however, could not shield Karen from the harsh world outside her door.  Socializing, challenging at times for any child, quickly became an excruciating experience as a result of the stigma around her disability.

After I became deaf adults treated me differently from other children,” Karen shares. “The other children avoided me. I began to feel unworthy.”

This sense of being ‘unworthy’ did not compartmentalize itself to her ability to socialize. As Karen grew it began to pervade all other aspects of her life. As she progressed through her teen years Karen experienced a generalized sense of low self-esteem. Again, it was her parents who reminded her of her worth through offering unconditional love.

My parents showed me and reminded me not only am I worthy of love–I am worthy of success even if I am deaf.”

It was in those moments Karen made the conscious decision her disability would never stop her from succeeding in life.

She recalled how she used to follow her father around when she was little watching him do electronics repairs and learning from him about computers.

She reflected on all he had been able to teach her where her disability did not matter: Microsoft Word, Power Point, Excel—she knew it all from a young age.

Slowly Karen’s confidence began to build as she realized she needed to recognize the potential for greatness in herself so others were able to see it, too.

Karen’s love for computers turned into her pursuing a Computer Science degree from Riara University. The Next Step Foundation funded Web Design & Development course she took, executed in partnership with a Nairobi skills-based ICT training center, further added qualifications to her CV.

Karen, employed in a DevOps internship at SafariCom PLC through Next Step Foundation’s job placement, is energized by her work and categorizes it as the perfect mix of challenging and fascinating.

I would like to thank Next Step Foundation for investing in Persons with Disabilities because we are often overlooked. People assume…if our ears are not working then we must be mentally having issues, too. This is not true. There are many Persons with Disabilities who have skills,  talents and ways of seeing the world from a different angle.”

The dynamic way Karen signs this sentiment belies no remnant of the teenaged girl who thought she was not worthy of success.

She is proud of how she brings to her employment all the innovative ways she has discovered to navigate her world. She is aware her unique perspective as a Person with a Disability makes her a better, more creative employee than her ‘traditional’ peers and is confident in her economic future.

Whatever you choose to do with your life will be hard.” Karen reminds us. “All things are challenging we are just asked to be patient and consistent”

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