Surfing the internet, trying to find other career options, landed Frank Lester on the Peace Corps website and led him to its Deaf Program in Kenya. This immediately sparked Frank’s interest.
He always enjoyed teaching and working with Deaf youth, and this seemed like an exciting international experience, which still allowed him to apply his existing skills. That was all Frank needed to see. He applied, got accepted, and was ready for his flight to Africa, but little did he realize the impact this would have on his life and others.
Frank, who is Deaf, taught English and HIV/AIDS prevention to youth at Deaf schools in both Kenya and Zambia. He quickly integrated with the local Deaf communities by being open and anxious to learn.
“Other than my identity as a Deaf person, my being open, being quick to learn new sign language, willing to try new things, taste new food, and do things differently helped me get immersed in the Deaf community”.
He learned new sign languages, such as Kenyan Sign Language (KSL), and learned to adapt to living in his new community. In addition, the Peace Corps provided pre-service training to incorporate language and cultural immersion. He was matched with a local Deaf family, which helped him get a head start before his assignment began.
However, some communication challenges remained. "The faculty and staff insisted that I hang out with them during the lunch hour, but they did not sign while they talked, which left me out. So, instead, I always joined my students for lunch.”
As Frank started his teaching, a true bond formed between him and his students. The students would walk Frank home, and he would sometimes cook for them to offer a change from their school meals. Frank tutored the students who needed additional help and those that just wanted to keep learning. It excited Frank to witness their thirst for knowledge.
There was one student in particular that drew Frank in because of his curiosity, friendliness, and engaging discussions. Francis Phiri was the student that always raised his hand more than anyone else in class; he wanted to know more about the U.S. and the rest of the world. Francis was excited to meet Frank, a Deaf American, who traveled outside his country and was committed to helping and teaching other Deaf people.
Frank and Francis often spoke about their future and their dreams. “We covered many topics and shared our opinions and experiences. Ongoing conversations lead to our strong friendship.”
Frank started speaking with Francis more about all of the ways that he could achieve his goals, specifically about going to the U.S. to continue his studies. Francis was excited about the idea, but didn’t think this could be or would be a possibility for him.
Frank guided Francis with the steps to take, such as obtaining a passport, applying to colleges, and applying for a student visa to get Francis closer to achieving his dreams. Francis followed all of the steps, and when he was approved for his visa, Frank was there waiting outside the US Embassy to congratulate him.
When Francis arrived to Fremont, California to begin his studies at Ohlone College, Frank was there to assist his friend. Frank helped Francis with his language and cultural immersion, just as he had once received a few years earlier. Francis will complete his Associates degree in December 2015, and is hoping to transfer to a university to study child development and education for the Deaf.
The Peace Corps was the beginning for both Frank and Francis. With each other, they found the opportunities that they will continue to share with others striving for more knowledge, better education, and the achievement of their dreams.