Working in Dandora the last week has taught me a lot about international development at a practical level. Dandora has the highest concentration of Deaf persons in Nairobi, and a high rate of unemployment. Deaf Empowerment Kenya (DEK) is a very ‘grassroots’ (I use that term loosely, since it’s one of the buzz words in development literature these days) level organization, operating on a shoe-string budget, but doing impressive work with the Deaf community, in the areas of education, peace-building (post election violence), advocacy and HIV/AIDS. DEK has been instrumental in recruiting participants for the interviews I will be conducting for the next month or so. They know how to mobilize the “opinion shapers” of the community, and once we had those individuals on board, it was (relatively) easy to get other people to agree to be interviewed, barring the usual hindrances, ie. African Time.
My research is on knowledge of HIV transmission, sexual behaviours, attitudes and beliefs about living positive, and opinions about how to go about improving HIV and AIDS awareness in the Deaf community in Kenya. There are already HIV workshops and support groups in Dandora for the Deaf, but DEK wants to see if the programs are effective, identify weaknesses and embark on strategies for improvement. I ran two focus groups, one with four women, and another with three men to get their ideas on the types of questions I would be asking, and if there was anything missing. We had fun brainstorming the different drugs used and abused in Kenya (marijuana, tobacco, cocaine- my suggestions; heroine, brown sugar, Miraa, Viagra, steroids- the Deafs’ suggestions) and I could barely keep from falling out of my chair with laughter when they helped me list the different types of sex Deaf people could have (oral, vaginal, anal, masturbation, breast sex, thigh sex, sex with objects (ex. carrot, banana- I kid you not!), sex with animals).
I don’t want to give you the impression that every Deaf person is partaking in these activities, but the fact that they were suggested indicates that there is an awareness, and the Deaf might be more liberalized in their sexuality than their hearing counterparts (at least of those who I’ve asked are willing to admit). From my literature review so far, I don’t think any researcher has asked these detailed questioned before, and DEK read over my questionnaire yesterday and is really excited to see the results. It gave me a great boost of confidence to hear that I had developed such a comprehensive questionnaire, and DEK could already see the potential for the report. At first I thought my questions were way to “Muzungu” – out-there Western woman, corrupting the young minds of Deaf Kenyans, but quite to the contrary, they had a lot to teach me about the sexual behaviours within their community, and they were quite happy to share those details. It gives me great hope that future peer counseling and seminars on HIV could include discussion, not only of modes of transmission, but also offer some of these “alternative” sexual activities as low-risk behaviours that can actually help protect the Deaf community and have fun at the same time.
One challenge we face is that some of the volunteers recruited are refusing to participate because they are not being paid. It’s an ethical dilemma all researchers are bound to face, but DEK is adamant that we not give any sort of reward until all the interviews are finished, and if we so much as mention payment, it will compromise the ability of any other researcher to recruit participants in the future. I agree with them, that’s why we’re planning a “launch party” as a “thank you” and to release the report on World AIDS Day – Dec 1! Doesn’t give me a lot of time to write the report, but I’ve already told DEK and HI that they will get the first copy of my thesis when it’s finalized in August 2010. A long way off, but I think it will be worth it!