Kenya: Deaf Girl Beats Odds to Clinch Africa Title

If anyone told Ms Christine Ngovi that her maiden flight would be to Russia, courtesy of her deaf daughter, she would not have believed him or her.

Mrs Ngovi accompanied her daughter Catherine to the Miss Deaf International competition early this month where she was the first runner up.

Catherine also holds the Miss Deaf Africa title.

The trip to Russia was sponsored by National Council for Persons with Disabilities executive director Mohammed Gabbow.

This is no mean feat for a girl who was declared deaf when she was only eight months old.

LOVE

Catherine's story is one of resilience, courage and determination. She is the second born in a family of four children. Her follower is also deaf.

"When she was a few months old, Catherine would not respond to rattles but our parents convinced us it was just a matter of time before she spoke," Catherine's father Philip Ngovi said.

"We eventually took her for tests at Kenyatta National Hospital where it was confirmed that she was deaf."

Mr Ngovi says while it is common for women to be blamed for "bringing misfortune" to the family in such circumstances, it was not the case for them.

"Of course, we thought bad luck had befallen us but having come from poverty, the only source of comfort we knew was love," he said.

"And we loved her. People who used to sideline Catherine should see her now. She is much better than they in many ways."

BLESSINGS

Still, it was not easy to come to terms with the cards fate had dealt the Ngovis, and the two at times wondered if they had wronged God.

"One day, I saw a man with no legs and I told myself that his parents did not make an application to get him. My deaf children had everything except the hearing ability, so I felt selfish in questioning God," Mrs Ngovi, who is a civil servant and a gospel artiste, said.

"That chance encounter made me love my children even more and accept them as they were."

Catherine's father is also a government worker and a former athlete who coaches runners and manages several teams.

He says his experience in coaching made it less of a culture shock when he found out that his daughter would have to wear a swimsuit on stage.

"I considered it to be part of the costumes and told my wife as much," he said, laughing at the memory of their time at the Miss Deaf Kenya competition in May when Christine forbade her daughter from wearing a swimsuit for an audience that included her uncles.

CHALLENGES

Through her interpreter Charlene Kyengo, who also plays the same role at the Kenya Institute of Management where she is a student, Catherine says she started taking part in pageants when she was 10.

Her teachers at Machakos School for the Deaf encouraged her -- and she loved the limelight.

"I loved dancing too. I always said pageantry was the platform I had to help people like me. It's what helped me see some of the challenges the deaf go through," Catherine said.

"In public institutions, there are no interpreters and I always have to be accompanied by another person. Even when I go to the hospital, my mother has to be with me. Having interpreters at government offices should be mandatory."

The stigma that came with being deaf was the hardest.

"It hurt deeply when people would tell their children to avoid her. I would tell Catherine to leave them alone and just play with her brother," Mrs Ngovi said.

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