Over a nine-month training course, the academy will give students a strong career foundation in IT – skills that are in high demand as the world of work becomes increasingly digital.
After lessons were paused during Kenya’s COVID-19 lockdown, the students are back in the classroom and eager to learn. Sightsavers caught up with some of the academy’s students to see how they are finding the course.
Meet Benson, Divinah, Jacklyne and Shanice, four students who are currently enrolled at the academy.
Despite holding a diploma in teaching from Kenyatta University, Benson has struggled to find a job because of his visual impairment. He joined the Bridge Academy hoping to improve his employability. “I see the course as a game changer,” he says. “It’s going to change my life. The position that I am in right now… I’m jobless. I hope my life is going to change – I’ll have a job, and I’ll have my daily bread.”
Before joining the course, Benson had been unable to secure a teaching job, despite having the qualifications, because of the barriers people with disabilities in Kenya face. He explains: “The TSC [Teachers Service Commission] used to employ people with disabilities immediately after people graduate. Nowadays they ask for experience. And you’ll find that most of the people with disabilities don’t have this experience.”
Once he’s employed, Benson hopes to support other people with disabilities in his community. “I would like to support people with disabilities in learning skills like the ones that I’ve gained,” he says. “I would like also to support people with disabilities to stand for themselves.”
A common experience that the students shared was the deep-rooted discrimination from potential employers while looking for a job.
Divinah, another student at the academy, says: “Someone may look at you and even though you have the capability [to work] they just take you for how you look and they’re like: ‘You should not do this.’ Most of the big challenges we face [are because of] discrimination.”
Divinah says she was lucky that an employer gave her the chance to work at a charity, where she discovered her passion for IT. “I used to just love anything dealing with computers,” she says. “I used to tell my boss: ‘One day, one time, I will learn IT.’” But she says this opportunity was rare for someone with a disability – most employers tend to judge people on their disability rather than their ability to do the job.
The Bridge Academy is helping to break down these barriers for people with disabilities and equips them with the skills and practical experience they need. Once their classroom training is complete, they’ll have the chance to work a three-month internship at Safaricom, the largest mobile network provider in Kenya. Other businesses in Kenya are working with the academy to help the students become ‘job ready’ when they graduate.
On her goals for the future, Divinah says, “My aspiration in life is to be a great businesswoman and to inspire everyone out there – whether they be disabled, or not – to tell them, ‘You can do anything in life.’”
The Bridge Academy course has adapted CISCO’s existing IT training to be more accessible for people with disabilities. The course has seen huge success in the USA, with more than 90% of trainees graduating and moving into employment. For the students, no formal education is needed: the only requirement is a passion for the work and an aptitude for IT.
Jacklyne’s love of computers drove her to sign up to the academy, where she hopes to gain the skills she needs to find work in the IT sector. She’s seen how difficult it can be for disabled people to be offered employment in Kenya.
“I discovered the course through a WhatsApp group. Then I saw the link and I decided to apply because I love IT so much,” she says. “I’ve seen so many people with disabilities who have completed their education and they are still at home because they cannot even find the opportunity.”
Jacklyne was pleased to join the academy and leave behind the daily discrimination she experienced in her hometown. Before the course, she says, “life was horrible. I had given up because of what people were saying. At home I was so stressed. But now, after coming here, I’m okay.”
At the academy, Jacklyne is thriving and picking up new skills, and she’s looking to fulfil her career aspirations after she completes the training. Some of her ambitions go beyond IT. “I have learnt how to use a router, a switch, things that I didn’t know,” she says. “I’m hoping to get a job in anything to do with computer networking or cyber security. My dream is to have a big house. I love business. I know I will not be the same again after finishing here. So I have great vision!
“I want to thank our sponsors for taking the time to sponsor me, and their generosity. I appreciate what they have done for us.”
For Shanice, who is deaf, joining the academy was a perfect opportunity. She had tried to learn IT skills before but had been discouraged by someone who told her that people with disabilities cannot study. “Then wow, surprisingly Sightsavers came on board and I was introduced to this whole training, and then I got my opportunity,” she says. “When I heard it is going to focus specifically on people with disabilities I was really happy.”
Once she has completed the training, Shanice’s goal is to use her new computer skills for good and protect people from becoming victims of online crime. “People are being robbed… people will not rob you physically, they will not rob you in a very violent way, but what they do is hack your accounts,” she says. “I want to defend people against that cybercrime.”
After just three weeks, the course has already inspired Shanice to start looking to the future. “I’m looking forward to becoming an expert in engineering and cyber security,” she says.
She also wants to find time in the future to empower other people with disabilities. She says, “I want to build something that is going to help people living with a disability. I want to train them in how to survive, and then I’ll give them experience in how to own a business. In short, I want to coach people with disabilities to be self-independent.”
“This is a dream come true and I really thank Sightsavers for everything. I would also like to thank all our donors and our supporters because without you, we couldn’t make it.”