It all started one mild spring day in September...
When I arrived at the school for the Deaf in Siteki, Swaziland, in September 2013, I had no idea what to expect, I was only filled with the excitement of being able to work with such a unique community. When I left, over three years later, I knew my work with the students and the school had only just begun. In seeing the dedication that the students, parents, teachers and school administration had to providing the best education that they could, despite limited resources, training, and monetary support, I knew there had to be short-term ways to disrupt the system and begin to slowly create long-lasting change over time. Deaf Education in Swaziland is extremely complex, and as I neared the end of my second year at the school I was presented with a choice: continue to work on small nudges within the system to create more opportunities for students, or take a leap of faith and invest directly in the students. I chose to start with the latter.
When Siyanda's parents approached me at the beginning of her 7th grade academic year and said "Sisi, we want our daughter to go to high school in South Africa" I started the long process of reaching out to schools (there are over 40 schools for the Deaf in South Africa) and vetting them for our specific needs - full-week boarding facilities, accepting international students, school-college tracking, academic and career guidance. Anthony had recommended De La Bat from the beginning, having trained there in their Deaf Ministries Program. At the end, there were only two schools that met our requirements. Siyanda was not the only student seeking to further her education outside of Swaziland; I was also working with two other students Bongani and Mbeketeli who were exceptional leaders at the school, characterized by dedication, creativity and commitment to helping others. With them, we were on a much tighter deadline, facing a "now or never" conundrum: high schools for the Deaf in South Africa do not admit students above the age of 18. To no fault of their own, both Mbeketeli and Bongani had entered school at a late age, and because the Siteki School for the Deaf was their first introduction to formal education, they started preschool when they were 6 and 7 years old. Now, approaching their 7th grade graduation they were 16 and 17 years old.
We anxiously submitted their applications to De La Bat, immersed in awareness that the stakes were so high, and the odds stacked against us. Miraculously, they were all accepted and their adventure in secondary education began. This is by no means the only way in which we are working to shape Deaf Education in Swaziland, but it is the start of a long journey to shift the status quo and carve out a space for Deaf children to excel.