‘My passion for sign language has seen me excel at Safaricom’

Rachael Baragu, a sign language interpreter

Rachael Baragu, a sign language interpreter who never attended any formal sign language classes. 

Photo credit: Boniface Mwangi | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Ms Barugu can communicate effectively with hearing-impared customers yet she has no formal training.
  • Her impactful work has made Safaricom gain customers’ trust, especially those living with disabilities.

Rachael Barugu, a customer experience executive at the Safaricom Shop in Nakuru, possesses a remarkable ability-to communicate effectively with hearing-impaired customers.

While on duty, her mastery of sign language is evident in her facial expressions, focused gestures made with her hands and fingers, all of which suggest a level of professionalism typically associated with formal training.

But interestingly, what sets her apart is that she has honed this skill not through formal classes, but through her genuine love for the language, cultivated by interacting extensively with the hearing-impaired community.

Barugu’s journey is made even more inspiring by her personal challenges as she was born with right hemiparesis, a condition causing muscle weakness on the right side of her body.

In an interview, she acknowledged accepting his part of her life and her compassionate nature extends beyond her own experiences, as she accommodates anyone with a disability, believing that they belong to her community and should be served regardless of the challenges involved.

Her resilience was evident from a young age when she faced exclusion from her peers in a public school in Nyeri County due to her condition.

And rather than succumbing to the negativity, she resolved to turn this adversity into an opportunity, concentrating on her studies and excelling in exams.

“Children will always be children, though I did not understand them at that time, I now fully understand why they reacted so towards me. Again, I am somehow grateful to them because it gave me an opportunity to concentrate on my books and do well in exams,” she said in an interview with Nation.Africa.

This early experience shaped Barugu’s perspective, fostering a deep-seated commitment to serving individuals with disabilitie.

Her belief, she explains is that anyone facing such challenges belongs to her community, and she stands ready to assist them, regardless of the obstacles.

Her journey into sign language began in 2018 while working as a volunteer at Fountain Gate Church in Ngara, where she served as the office administrator.

During a church conference, she encountered a deaf lady at the registration desk, and despite her initial helplessness, she remembered a church member and friend who was a sign language interpreter.

 That friend’s assistance sparked Barugu's interest in sign language, and she decided to learn more about it.

In 2019, she  joined Safaricom and was stationed in Nakuru as a customer experience executive.

The company provided opportunities for employees to receive training in sign language, a one-day session that equipped Barugu with basic communication skills.

A significant encounter occurred two months later when a hearing-impaired client, Martin Njoroge, visited the Safaricom Shop.

Armed with limited sign language knowledge, she communicated with Martin by finger-spelling each letter, leading to a successful interaction.

“To me, this was baptism by fire! Though it took long, I was satisfied that I had accomplished something at the end of the day,” Barugu recalled in the interview.

Her dedication did not go unnoticed, as her boss secretly recorded the interaction and shared the video, leading to her appointment as the sign language interpreter at the Nakuru Safaricom Shop.

Despite her proficiency, Barugu has no intention of seeking a job in sign language interpretation, emphasizing that her goal is to assist those who cannot communicate verbally.

While she plans to further her knowledge of sign language through formal education, she remains committed to her profession in data engineering.

 Her passion lies in aiding the hearing-impaired community, and she finds joy in their straightforwardness and honesty.

“They are the coolest people I know. Straight to the point and hardly do they lie. Whenever I experience a bad day, I opt to look for any of my deaf friends and just have a chat with him or her,” she said.

Barugu’s supervisor Mercy Mwanja commended her exceptional skills saying they were impacting by gaining more customers' trust, especially those with disabilities.