Angel + Alvin

- an HIV prevention / deaf youth SRHR empowerment story -

PEPFAR gives hope to deaf children by bringing different partners to enable us to learn how HIV is spread, how we can prevent HIV, how we can deal with the changes in our body, and how to make healthy choices for a better future.

(Angel Atieno)

Angel Atieno

Alvin Otieno

"PEPFAR gives knowledge"

PEPFAR Kenya gives hope and knowledge through...

teaching deaf youth about HIV prevention and sexual and reproductive health and rights

The Kenya National Association of the Deaf estimates that there are 200,000 deaf children with only about 10% attending any formal schooling. The country has 120 primary and 23 secondary schools for deaf learners. Historically, there has been minimal effort to include deaf children in Kenya - including adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) like Angel - in HIV/AIDS prevention programs, due to challenges in information and support. “Deaf girls and boys have been excluded for a long time from getting information because of barriers in communication," says Angel, a 13-year-old deaf girl. Deaf and hard of hearing patients also continue to face many challenges in accessing healthcare services in Kenya. The greatest barrier is the lack of communication skills for health care workers. Having health care workers trained with basic skills in Kenyan Sign Language (KSL) can significantly bridge the gap in communication and access to health care services for the deaf community. At the same time, equipping deaf teachers like Alvin with the knowledge and training to mentor deaf youth to make healthy choices for their bodies can equally shape the health and futures of deaf youth. Read on to learn more about how PEPFAR is imparting hope by empowering Kenyans like Angel and Alvin with critically important knowledge...



Angel Atieno is a bright, confident 13-year-old adolescent girl with a promising future. Like many teenagers, Angel enjoys sports and hanging out with her friends. However, Angel is not like all teenagers; she has courage and fierce determination beyond her years and circumstances. Angel just completed Class 8, and she is an engaged student with a keen interest in science and Kenyan Sign Language. "KSL is my favorite subject," she explains, "because it gives deaf youth like me hand shapes (signs) to articulate our thoughts, and gives us the ability to understand through communication, which will give us various opportunities in the future to achieve our goals." Angel dreams of being a teacher someday to deaf children like herself, helping bridge the gaps of information and communication that many face. After all, "Knowledge is power," she says.


PEPFAR has supported DREAMS (Determined, Resilient, Empowered, AIDS-Free, Mentored and Safe) and other life skills activities geared towards empowerment of deaf youth like Angel and her peers, both in schools and in the community. The youth meet in safe spaces where Peace Corps Volunteers and their trained counterparts, like Alvin, train and mentor the students using Kenyan Sign Language. Through this program, woven into the school curriculum at schools like Maseno School for the Deaf, "deaf youth have the opportunity to learn so many things that their families would not be able to communicate about at home, to teach them and guide them," says Laura Rodrigues, a Peace Corps Volunteer who employs PEPFAR curricula and training to equip the students at Maseno. "We appreciate that the DREAMS Safe Spaces program teaches and supports young people across Kenya - all kinds of youth, including the deaf community - with the information they lack about sexual and reproductive health and their rights. That knowledge is very, very powerful."

From Angel's perspective, "It is important for deaf youth to know how to avoid getting HIV... and it is important to gain this knowledge in school, so that youth know how to protect themselves, to finish school, to achieve their dreams and objectives, to become better people in future... and to stop HIV/AIDS from spreading." In addition to learning how to prevent HIV/AIDS, says Angel, "We have also learned what situations you do not need to be concerned about: it is impossible to get HIV/AIDS from eating together, from bathing, from playing together; you can play and be together with people living with HIV." Angel is a peer leader in her school, and she provides mentorship and support to her fellow students, sharing with others the knowledge she has gained.


"Deaf children and youth often face challenges of communication, even with their own families, and media generally focuses the information they share on the hearing community," observes Laura. "So having the opportunity to come to this school, having an interpreter or teacher who can communicate in their language and clarify their questions about all subjects, including the sexual and reproductive health curriculum, is really valuable... Information is power, and that is the key: giving deaf youth the information they need, so they understand that they are important, so they are empowered to make healthy choices."


Beyond the knowledge they have gained, Angel and her peers have also grown in confidence through the program, as they are empowered by knowing how to safeguard their health and their rights. "This program has helped me become more confident, more empowered to make healthy decisions for my body and my life," she says. "It has also helped me to dream about what I want to achieve in the future and how to achieve it... I want to become an elementary school teacher - to encourage learners to work hard, and to achieve a better future for ourselves."


"In this community, we have been encouraged well," Angel reflects. "This is the best program. We wish that we will continue to have this program and to be able to lead others well too. I am very happy because I have been helped so much. Truly, to the members of PEPFAR, Peace Corps, and Pamoja group, we thank you so much for thinking about us, and for giving us the Safe Spaces program. We are very thankful."



Alvin Otieno is a teacher to students like Angel, at another deaf school in Western Kenya, Ng’Eny School for the Deaf. Having been born hearing, he started to lose his hearing towards the end of Class 8, just a few weeks before his KCPE exams - which Angel has just completed. Alvin's hearing loss was progressive, and he was transferred to a special needs school in Form 2. "Despite all these challenges, I was determined and never lost hope," he recalls. "I beat the odds to achieve my goal, and to conquer the slogan 'Disability is not inability.' " Alvin has a heart for deaf youth - particularly for ensuring that they have access to all the information they need to have a firm educational foundation and to make healthy life choices as well.


The PEPFAR program has incorporated various evidence-based interventions (EBIs) targeted at reaching deaf youth with health education, alongside the DREAMS Safe Spaces program. With PEPFAR support, Peace Corps trains coaches (volunteers and counterparts) in the Grassroot Soccer’s (GRS) Skillz program. In twelve, age-appropriate training modules, the GRS Skillz program uses soccer-related games and activities to teach about sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), including puberty, HIV prevention, STIs and personal rights. Students discuss the SRHR metaphors illustrated by the soccer activity, so that they are able to make a strong connection between the game and the lesson, with a discussion of real-life application. In Western Kenya, PEPFAR has funded the training of four Kenyan Master Coaches and numerous Skillz Coaches. Of these, 6 Kenyan counterparts and 2 Peace Corps volunteers teach and work with deaf and hard of hearing students, implementing the program in various schools and communities.


Alvin is a seasoned Grassroot Soccer coach who trains and works with deaf students in his community to learn more about HIV prevention through various EBIs. Because he became deaf post-lingual, Alvin can read lips perfectly and he can speak. As a result, he is able to run an integrated GRS sexual and reproductive health education program that brings together the Ng’Eny deaf students and the hearing students from the school next door.

Through PEPFAR, Alvin is a trained master TOT (Trainer of Trainers) of a curriculum called Engaging Men and Boys in Gender Transformation, which targets boys and young men and teaches them to be more involved in their health and the health of their families, with an aim to reduce gender-based violence (GBV) and intimate partner violence (IPV), among other health- and rights- promoting perspectives.



If knowledge is power, then everyone should have the same access to information and ability to make decisions for their bodies, their rights, and their health. Through this program, and through Peace Corps and PEPFAR's partnership with schools like Maseno and Ng’Eny Schools for the Deaf, and teachers like Alvin, we aim to make deaf students like Angel and her peers less vulnerable, and increasingly empowered - giving them a voice.


"We thank PEPFAR for reaching us with such programs in Kenyan Sign Language." Alvin says. Angel adds: "PEPFAR gives hope to deaf children by bringing different partners to enable us to learn how HIV is spread, how to prevent HIV, how to deal with the changes in our body, and how to make healthy choices for a better future. These are basic things that we, the deaf, didn’t know."


As we mark the 20 years of PEPFAR's impact in Kenya, we celebrate and are committed to the inclusion of the deaf in HIV programming. Angel and Alvin are a testimony that health interventions geared towards the deaf are not only promoting equity and empowerment, but also effective in fighting HIV in this vulnerable population. Their unique stories inspire us and give us hope for an AIDS-free generation in Kenya.


- a pepfar Kenya story of hope -