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Empowering the deaf is her calling

By Mwangi Muraguri | January 25th 2015 at 08:42:00 GMT +0300

Principal New image beauty college and Spa, Risper Ouko [right] and College Director, Joseph Onyango [2nd right] are joined by students after their graduation in Mombasa. 24th December 2414. Photo Omondi Onyango/Standard

About 10 years ago, Risper Ouko’s unquenchable desire to help the disabled saw her enroll a mute student at her beauty college in Mombasa.

As we sit down for an interview at her beauty salon-cum-college, the Germany-trained cosmetologist proudly displays a photograph of the hearing impaired girl who was among her first bunch of students and who currently runs a salon in Nairobi.

She says she took the girl in after she had been turned away by several beauty colleges on account of her hearing impairment.

For a whole year, Risper, who is also skilled in sign language, struggled with the student, interpreting lessons for her to ensure she did not lag behind in her studies.

“It is a calling I cannot run away from,” she says. “I hate to see people being marginalised because of issues they have no power over.”

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Counting blessings

Her New Image College and Spa has been in operation from 2004 and has seen 600 students, among them 15 with hearing difficulties, graduate with diplomas in cosmetology.

She also talks of Babylynne Mukila, a student at the college, who made headlines after emerging first runners up in a local tourism beauty pageant last year. “Babylynne is just one among the many blessings I count,” she says. 

She admits that having role models like Babylynne in her college has boosted her business and her salon is preferred by high-end clients.

“I cannot describe the fulfillment I get whenever I feel I have played a positive role in transforming a life.”

Hope and determination

But it has not been all rosy for Risper, who had only two students when she started the college in 2003.

“It was not easy at all. But hope and determination have brought me this far.

“Some friends even cautioned me that enrolling hearing impaired would slow down the college’s growth,” Risper says as she recounts her struggles to register her college with the relevant examinations bodies.

“I am happy to have trained students capable of competing with their counterparts from the most established colleges in the country,” she says

Ripser, who is fondly referred to as “mum” by students, emphasises the importance of an up-to-date curriculum in the beauty industry so that requisite skills like proper handling of chemicals can be inculcated.

She says that regarding cosmetology as a low-level career is a big challenge in the development of the local beauty industry.

She also notes the low number of male students enrolling in beauty colleges is another impediment to the growth of the beauty sector.

Apart from linking students to the job market, Risper sees to it that graduates gain extensive practical experience.

Her students perfect their skills by attending internship at leading salons and hotels in the Coast region.

Entrepreneurial spirit

She also allows the trainees to have their own clients and attend to them at the salon.

This enables them to earn as they train.

Risper also mentors students by inculcating values and advising them against engaging in risque behaviour like prostitution and drug abuse which can jeopardise their careers.

She defends investing time in counseling and inculcating entrepreneurial spirit, which she says not only help the students to stay focused but also steer from drugs and early pregnancies common in the region.

“I get motivated whenever I meet a successful former student. That is how my passion is renewed. It is more than a monetary reward,” she says, and adds that at times she allows students without fees to stay in class to stem the dropout rates.

She hails, Joseph Onyango, the management consultant and the director of the institution for playing a leading role in marketing the college, a feat which has helped it to grow.

“We have plans that will see us realise our dream of helping as many disabled persons as possible,” says Mr Onyango.

Risper’s daughter, also a beautician, is in charge of practical lessons at the institution.

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