In an increasingly digital world, the initiative in Kenya is making it possible for people with disabilities to access information technology (IT) training, giving them the skills and practical experience they need to compete equally in the jobs market.
Since the course resumed after Kenya’s COVID-19 lockdown, the entire cohort of students has passed their exams. They’ll be using their skills in a six-month internship at Safaricom, the largest mobile network provider in Kenya.
In March, the students will take part in the first graduation ceremony at the academy. It will be a special day for them and a chance to celebrate their hard work and achievements with their friends and families. They’ll also be joined by the academy’s second cohort, who will be able to watch and share the success of the students that came before them.
Sightsavers caught up with students Benson, Divinah, Jacklyne and Shanice to hear about their reflections on the course and their hopes for the future.
We first met Benson, Divinah, Jacklyne and Shanice in June 2021, when they were settling into their course. They shared their motivations for studying IT and their hopes for the future.Meet the students
A teaching graduate from Kenyatta University, Benson struggled to find a job because of his visual impairment and hoped the Bridge Academy would increase his employability.
One of Benson’s favourite things about the course is how practical and hands-on it is. “Before the course, I was just imagining what the router looks like, what the switch looks like,” he says. “But when the physical equipment came, I enjoyed it the most because even though I can’t see them, I can feel them.”
Knowing how the equipment works has not only increased Benson’s confidence but allowed him to tell others about his skills. “When I tell some people that I’m in school learning about computers, they want to know how a person who can’t see can navigate the keyboard,” he says. To this, he confidently replies: “I know every keyboard key.”
Looking to the future, Benson says: “I see myself as a great person. I have improved my life, my background.” He has big dreams for his career and hopes that his internship at Safaricom will lead to a permanent job.
Divinah enjoyed learning alongside other young people with disabilities, which was made possible thanks to the academy’s location at the National Industrial Training Authority in Nairobi. Changes were made to ensure that the building was accessible: ramps were added to the classroom and dining hall, and the washroom was adapted. Interpreters were also made available for students with sensory impairments. While studying together, students were able to learn from each other and hear about the experiences of other people with disabilities.
Divinah says: “I learned to interact with these different kinds of disabilities, which was one of my dreams when I was young. The experience was awesome – interacting with one another and learning new skills.”
Divinah hopes to use her new skills in her dream job as a data analyst, and she also has plans to start her own company. But she hasn’t just learned about IT and computers. “This project has built my capacity, given me new skills, and also helped me to network,” she says. Her networking skills will be useful when she fulfils her ambition “to be one of the top models in Kenya living with disability”. As she said at the beginning of the course, he ultimate aim is to “inspire everyone out there – whether they are disabled or not”.
The Bridge Academy course has adapted CISCO’s existing IT training to be more accessible for people with disabilities. For the students, no formal education is needed: the only requirement is a passion for the work and an aptitude for IT. The academy was recently recognised in Cisco Networking Academy’s Be the Bridge Awards.
Jacklyne’s love of computers led to her joining the Bridge Academy. “This programme has really changed my life,” she says. “I was a single mother, and it was difficult because of my disability.” She even told her parents not to focus on her education and instead prioritise educating her son.
But after studying at the academy, Jacklyne’s outlook has completely changed. When asked to describe her life in three words, she says: “Living my dream! I’m more confident now because I know I’ll get a job. And I’ll be able to educate my son.”
The practical IT skills she learned at the academy have also been useful in her home life. Now known as the ‘engineer’ of the family, Jacklyne has even been able to use her new knowledge to fix her father’s TV. She explains how her family’s perception of her has changed. “My siblings, my parents: now they see me as someone who will help them, an inspiration in their life,” she says. Jacklyne’s family are all hoping to join her at her graduation later this month to celebrate her success.
She’s now looking to the future and aspires to be an engineer, but explains she is mostly “trying to make my parents proud and to make my kid’s future good.” She’s grateful to the donors who made the Bridge Academy possible. “I thank them from my heart,” she says, “and thank you for changing my life. Thank you to all the people. May they continue helping more people with disabilities.” Her final wish is “to meet my sponsors and give them a high five” – we hope this wish can come true too.