Ever since she was a little girl, 30-year-old Kelly Rogel of Olathe knew she wanted to travel the world.
“I was just always interested in learning a new language, a new culture and in seeing the world,” Rogel said. “I’ve wanted to live overseas since the third grade.”
Rogel wasn’t about to let the fact that she was born deaf keep her from pursuing her dreams. Upon graduating with her master’s degree in human genetics from Sarah Lawrence College in New York, she set her sights on volunteering for the Peace Corps.
This winter, Rogel returned to Olathe after serving with the Peace Corps for almost 27 months in a small, remote village in Kenya. While there, she taught various subjects at a school for the deaf. Rogel, who graduated from Olathe South High School and the University of Kansas, taught math, science and life skills and even set up a reading club and a science club. It’s an ambitious curriculum when you consider how few opportunities are given to deaf children in Kenya.
“There tends to be more of a stigma associated with being deaf in Kenya than there is in America,” Kelly Rogel said. “Many deaf children are hidden and they oftentimes start school late. We had students in the first grade who were about 12 years old.”
Dealing with the stigma wasn’t the only hurdle that Rogel had to overcome while in Kenya. She also had to transition from communicating through American Sign Language to Kenyan Sign Language.
Rogel was provided an interpreter during her training period. But once that ended, she had to learn to communicate on her own.
“It was tough at first, but I learned to be patient,” Rogel said. “I learned that it was better to ask a person to repeat themselves if I didn’t understand them the first time instead of having a miscommunication occur. I also learned KSL quicker that way.”
Patience may have come easier for Rogel than it did for her parents Marilyn and Ken Rogel back home in Olathe. They admit that they had some concerns about Kelly’s safety and the fact that she would be gone for so long and without an interpreter. But ultimately they drew comfort in knowing that Kelly had always been able to accomplish whatever she set her mind to.
“Her whole life we have been careful to not use her deafness as an excuse and to support and encourage her,” Marilyn Rogel said. “We wanted to give her the mind-set to not let anything stand in her way.”
Marilyn Rogel is as proud of the courage her daughter showed by volunteering for the Peace Corps as she is in her accomplishments. One of Kelly’s biggest accomplishments while in Kenya was to set up a 5,000 liter water tank to help the villagers collect rainwater. Rogel helped raise money for the project too by applying for a $550 grant through the organization Water Charity.
“Even though we had some water tanks at the school already, it wasn’t enough and we would run out of water,” Kelly Rogel said. “Then the students would have to leave school early to walk 20 to 30 minutes one way to get water from a water pump and then bring it back to the school daily.”
Rogel is looking forward to sharing many of her experiences in Kenya in conjunction with national Peace Corps Week, which ends Saturday. Rogel will speak to the public at 7 p.m. on March 5 at the Johnson County Central Resource Library.
She is proud of her work in Kenya as part of the Peace Corps and wants to let others know that it’s possible for anyone to make a positive difference in someone else’s life.
“Sometimes all it takes is encouraging a child to be a leader and then he or she helps improve their community for the rest of their life.”