A deaf Co Londonderry teenager travelled to Africa to help kids whose hearing impairment is perceived as a punishment from God. He tells Stephanie Bell how volunteering is helping to break down taboos.
Magherafelt teenager Diarmuid Laverty knows the challenge of living every day without hearing - but nothing prepared him for the horror of spending the summer in a country where deafness is considered a curse from God and children are ostracised because they cannot hear.
Diarmuid (19), who has started the second year of a degree in psychology with criminology at Manchester Metropolitan University, has just returned from three months volunteering among the deaf community in Nandi County in rural Kenya.
Poverty and prejudice mean deaf children in Nandi are often ignored and receive little support at school. Deafness is a source of shame for families and many parents don't know any Kenyan Sign Language (KSL) to enable them to communicate with their own children.
Diarmuid flew to the region to try and help to change this by volunteering with a new initiative in Kenya run by the International Citizen Service (ICS), in association with the deaf charity Deafway. ICS is funded by the UK government and managed by leading international development charity VSO.
He taught KSL to parents of deaf children so they could have a full conversation with their child for the first time. He also helped them access support for their children and taught local hospital staff KSL so they can support the deaf community more in future.
Alongside nine other people from the UK and 11 Kenyan co-volunteers, who are also deaf, Diarmuid also helped stage a deaf awareness march on September 16, which brought around 100 deaf and hearing people together from all over Nandi to fight for the rights of deaf people and bring an end to the discrimination.
"Disability in Kenya is quite stigmatised. Some people think that disability is a punishment from God or a curse. Some parents feel so embarrassed and ashamed that they hide their deaf children away," he says.