YES Programs



YES Alumni Grant: Career Mentorship for Deaf Youth

Group work with the students seating in circles Project Lead Nehemiah seating with them interacting and smiling

By Nehemiah Danjuma (YES 2015-2016, Nigeria, placed by World Link in Arvada, CO)

The importance of mentors and role models in both personal and professional realms cannot be overemphasised. Throughout my YES year, I was fortunate to experience a wealth of mentorship, personal growth, professional development, networking, and volunteer opportunities. These experiences and the countless role models I interacted with profoundly influenced my perspective, encouraging me to aim high and contribute meaningfully to society.

One standout mentor was Susan Sygall, a dedicated advocate for disability rights who I had the honor of meeting during the orientation workshop for students with disabilities, hosted by Mobility International USA (MIUSA). Her advocacy for disability rights spurred my ambition to pursue a career in law, a path I previously thought was unattainable for someone with my hearing impairment.

Participants and project lead Nehemiah seated communicating in sign language and the Career Fair banner in the back

Most deaf children in Nigeria do not get the kind of opportunities I had in the U.S. They possess immense potential but often lack access to career counseling, mentorship, and, most importantly, role models who inspire them to dream big and achieve their educational and personal goals. As a result, there is a notable trend in the transition rate from secondary school to higher education within the Deaf community – only three out of every 10 deaf students advance to college or university in Nigeria.

Inspired by my YES experience and driven by the desire to promote higher education among deaf teens, I applied for a YES Alumni Grant. With the support of dedicated volunteers, we initiated a series of career fairs and mentorship workshops for 160 deaf students in secondary schools across three states: Kaduna, Kano, and Kwara. We equipped these high school seniors with essential knowledge, skills, and resources to transition to higher education. Expert mentors and career coaches guided the sessions, which covered topics such as self-awareness, self-determination, and self-advocacy; choosing a career path; information about Deaf-friendly universities and colleges and the admissions process; and how to enhance one’s networking and communication skills. Additionally, students engaged in one-on-one mentorship and group activities to develop and support their future educational plans. These workshops also facilitated connections between the participants and university students, who will offer ongoing mentorship, serve as role models, and support participants’ educational pursuits.

A Deaf student participant smiling posing with peace sign showing with hand

The project profoundly influenced the students' self-perception. The short-term impact is the mentorship, resources, and support the students have benefited from. The skills they developed will help them to succeed in their studies and pursue their career aspirations. In the long term, the project aimed to boost the number of deaf students advancing to higher education, fostering a more educated, economically empowered, and diverse workforce within the Deaf community.

Reflecting on the success of the initiative, I often inquired about the students' future career aspirations. Their responses, particularly one from a young girl aspiring to be a lawyer yet uncertain about the feasibility for deaf individuals, struck a chord with me. You can imagine how her face radiated when I told her I was perusing a law career and there are many deaf lawyers out there. This moment underscores the transformative power of mentorship and role models, highlighting how exposure to successful individuals can bridge the gap between dreams and reality. This experience has deepened my gratitude for the opportunities I've had and emphasized the need to extend these possibilities to others, underscoring that while ambitions are universal, access to opportunities is not.

Team lead Nehemiah with his back wearing a T shirt from the Global Village on the Move program logo 2023 female participants seating in front of him

I am grateful to the YES program for the continuous opportunities to give back to my community and to the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs for sponsoring this project. I also give my thanks to our implementing partner, the National Association of Nigerian Deaf Students (NANDS), the schools for the Deaf, and all the volunteers and trainers for their support throughout this project.