Spotlight on Ohlone:
Zambia native lives the California life

By Sarah Hashemi, Staff writer.

Thursday, May 13, 2010—Reprinted from Monitor.

The Republic of Zambia is a country located in South Africa, between Congo and Zimbabwe.Their education system is divided into basic education, which is school years 1-9, and secondary education, which is 10-12.

Three photos of Francis Phiri smiling and speaking using ASL. Not only is Phiri a senator for ASOC but also a representitive for both ASL and the Deaf Club.. —Photo by Jillian Sanchez.

Only 50 percent of students complete basic education and less than 20 percent even make it to secondary because of an enforced tuition at year 8.

A problem facing the education system is the education of disabled students. The 2007 Educational Statistical Bulletin released by the Zambian Ministry of Education reveals that the dropout rate for deaf learners is 97 percent.

Deaf Ohlone student Francis Phiri beat those odds when he graduated from Munali High School in Zambia and came to America on Aug 4, 2009 to pursue a higher education.

Phiri was born in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. At the age of 12, he was stricken with malaria and it caused his hearing to slowly deteriorate until it was completely gone.

In 2004, he entered a school with a deaf program,“That was hard for me to learn, to start sign language and to start the basics,” he said. Despite having a deaf program, Phiri said, “[It] is really awful…the teachers don’t know how to teach the deaf.”

During the time in high school, Phiri became involved in the deaf community. He took part in organizations such as the Association of Sign Language Interpreters of Zambia(ASLIZ) and Deaf Hope.

He met Frank Lester during this time, who is a teacher at the California School of the Deaf. “[He] saw I was smart in my classes, so he decided to bring me here to America,” said Phiri. Lester is paying for Phiri’s education with help from deaf organizations.

When Lester first approached Phiri about going to America to learn ASL (American Sign Language), he mentioned the deaf program at Ohlone. Phiri decided that he was going to attend to “get my AA in deaf studies, transfer to a university, and get my BA to become a social worker.”

So Phiri left his family in Zambia and this is now Phiri’s second semester at Ohlone. He maintained high grades and was even able to play soccer for the Men’s Soccer Team, which he described as a good experience.

When spring semester came, he had to choose between ASOC (Associated Students of Ohlone College) and continuing soccer. He chose to pursue ASOC because “I wanted to be a bridge from ASOC to the deaf community. I want to hear their concerns and bring to the ASOC what the deaf people need.” He is also a representative for the ASL and Deaf clubs on campus.

Ultimately, “I want to become a deaf advocate, like teach at a deaf university in Zambia; to help the deaf community there with skills for their English.” Phiri continued to say, “I want to help overcome the deaf education, like the problems that I faced in Africa. A life without education is really hard.”

His ambitions are to either work for the government, teach ASL , or even coach soccer when he returns home.Phiri will be continuing his education at Ohlone and hopes to be back home in Africa by 2012 to pursue his goal of revolutionizing deaf education in Zambia.

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