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YES Alumni Grant: Promoting Inclusion through Sign Language Training

Participants Doing Questionnaire Interview

By Nabil Mussa (YES 2014-2015, Tanzania, placed with ACES in Davenport, IA)

My name is Nabil Mussa, and I’m from the small, beautiful island of Zanzibar, Tanzania. In 2014, I had the honor of receiving a YES program scholarship to live and study in the U.S. for an academic year. I was placed in Davenport, IA and went to Davenport Central High School. I loved Davenport for many reasons, most notably for my host family’s hospitality and efforts to make me feel at home. 

I learned a lot from my host mom. She is the type of person who always wants to see a change in the world, and through her, I became interested in making the world a better place. This is why I’m currently working on a bachelor’s degree in environmental science at the State University of Zanzibar. My host dad taught me not to live my life based on stereotypes of what a man can or cannot do. In Zanzibar, men do not cook for the family, but my host dad taught me how to bake cookies. I had two younger host siblings, who taught me how to be a responsible brother and take care of others. 

Ali And Rakabu Learning How To Introduce Themselve
Participants learning to introduce themselves

My YES year helped me become the better person I am today. I gained confidence in giving presentations because I gave many at my U.S. high school about my country, and I also learned about volunteering my time to help those in need.

I decided to apply for a YES Alumni Grant because of the hardships people with hearing or speaking disabilities face in my community. My community and the government help people with disabilities financially by providing them with jobs and financial aid, but these programs do not address their social needs. Children go to school and are given homework, but their parents can’t assist them because they don’t know sign language. Female teenagers often lack the education they need about their changing bodies because their parents don’t know sign language. People with these disabilities often face barriers to receiving health and social services because providers lack interpretation resources. I decided to take a step towards addressing these issues by organizing a sign language training for parents, community members, health workers, and government officials to bridge the communication gap between people with hearing or speaking disabilities and the rest of the community.

Participants Sharing Knowledge In Groups
Participants engaging in group work

With my 2020 YES Alumni Grant award, I organized a two-month sign language training program for 40 parents and community members who care for and support children with hearing or speaking disabilities. The project was held in cooperation with a local organization, JUWALAZA, which provided my project with two trainers and helped connect me with participants for the program. Participants included parents and family members of children with hearing or speaking disabilities, local health workers, and government officials who need to be able to provide services in sign language. Participants learned how to sign the alphabet, the names of family members, and common household language, such as the signs for food. They learned how to introduce themselves, start a conversation, and comprehend a story narrated in sign language.

The project had a positive impact on participants, and local community members and organizations praised our efforts to make life more inclusive for people with disabilities. Two participants broke down in tears saying, "We have lived with our brother for 15 years without understanding what he says, but through this training, we are able to socialize with him, and he is happy about that."  Another participant said, "I have been so hard on myself for losing my hearing at an older age and not knowing sign language, but this training has changed my life."

The alumni organizers sitting at the table
Nabil (left) and a YES alumnus teammate

I hope this project does not end here. I helped 40 people this time, but many others need this type of training. I am exploring other funding sources so I can continue supporting people with speaking and hearing disabilities in my community. The 40 participants trained in this project have been encouraged to continue learning and teach others to keep making changes in this communication gap.

Thank you to the YES Program and the U.S. Department of State for funding this project! I have much gratitude for JUWALAZA for partnering with us, helping to fund the venue, and providing the project with two sign language trainers. Lastly, many thanks to my alumni project team for all the support and assistance they dedicated to the project. 


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