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USD Student Aims To Educate Deaf In East Africa

Evening Edition

Aired 8/9/13 on KPBS News.

The long-term goals of the program are to increase the number of deaf students accepted into universities, increase the scholarship opportunities and eventually help get them jobs.

Many of us tend to take speaking and hearing for granted, until we lose the ability to do either.

So, imagine the challenge of pitching a business idea in sign language. That's what the first prize winner of the University of San Diego's Social Innovation Challenge did.

USD is a far cry from Burundi in East Africa, where Isidore Niyongabo lost his hearing at the age of 10 after suffering from spinal meningitis, a disease many people die from in Africa, he says speaking through an interpreter.

Niyongabo didn't give up. His father found out about a teaching program for deaf children and spent 13 hours on a bicycle with Isadore to enroll.

"He opened my journey for education," Niyongabo said. That 13-hour bike trip through scorching heat and mountainous terrain was his vision for me. I feel like it's my dad saying 'keep bicycling son, keep going.'"

Niyongabo received an education in Burundi, then came to the U.S., where he graduated from San Diego State University and is now working on his masters degree at USD.

He won first place in the school's Social Innovations Challenge, where students pitch their business ideas to a group of professionals.

He won $15,000 to launch his IDEAL program to improve the quality of life for an estimated 72 million deaf people around the world, 80 percent of whom live in developing countries in East Africa.

"I want to help other deaf people to have the same opportunity that was afforded to me," he said.

That starts with a mentoring and training program to raise up other deaf students to become similar advocates.

The long-term goals of the program are to increase the number of deaf students accepted into universities, increase the scholarship opportunities and eventually help get them jobs.

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