Deaf teen from Nairobi slum makes waves in community ballet program 

Dollita Okine May 16, 2024
She said in sign language that she began taking classes with other kids from the neighborhood in 2020 when all schools were closed. Photo via AP

Gorrety Akinyi, a 17-year-old from Nairobi, Kenya, is thriving in a community ballet program despite being specially abled.

Akinyi lives in the Kibera slums and is deaf, but she has managed to learn the routines by closely imitating her teacher and fellow students. She said in sign language that she began taking classes with other kids from the neighborhood in 2020 when all schools were closed.

“I was the only deaf girl but Mike was willing to help me and I remember them wondering how I would do it because I am deaf and it is about dancing,” she told AP. “So I had to copy what the hearing are doing, as I can’t hear and speak as well.”

Located in Kibera, the largest slum community in the capital of Kenya, Project Elimu was founded by Michael Wamaya to provide children in Kibera with a safe space and after-school arts education.

Since sound is the main focus of the session, her hearing peers were initially shocked by her decision to enroll in the class. Erick Mwangi, her ballet instructor, said that all students are welcome to attend the classes. “That is why you can’t notice that a certain child is special in a certain way, especially when they are dancing, because they have learnt to be together, to dance as a team,” he said.

Akinyi and her ballet classmates have now become close, and she has even taught them sign language. According to Mwangi, the kids now know how to share what they have and to treat each other with love and respect.

Her mother, Florence Awino, said she is proud of her daughter. She remarked, “Ever since she joined ballet, I have seen a great improvement. Even in terms of the way she dances, you would assume she can hear but she doesn’t hear. It’s by God’s grace that she has come this far.”

Inspired by her love of dancing, the trailblazer has learned to face obstacles head-on. She said she planned to keep dancing after high school.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: May 16, 2024

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