Volunteer Heather Black using the Sign Language Dictionary with students at the Kiribati School & Centre for Children with Special Needs

First sign language dictionary in Kiribati

Heather Black is an Australian volunteer making a difference in the education of deaf children and young adults in Kiribati.

Working with staff at the Kiribati School and Centre for Children with Special Needs, Heather helped produce the country’s first sign language dictionary which consists of images of signs with Kiribati and English translations. Besides the educational benefits, it is hoped the project will also promote stronger relationships between deaf students and their friends and families, who have previously struggled to find sign language resources.

Heather has been on assignment with the Kiribati School and Centre for Children with Special Needs to deliver programs that educate, train and care for deaf children and young adults.

“Developing signing skills within the community offers deaf people greater access to information and social networks,” says Heather. “It also leads to better understanding between hearing and deaf individuals and communities.”

The local Bairiki Rotary Club has provided finance to print a copy of the dictionary for every school and clinic in Kiribati, as well as every family of deaf students.

“This dictionary is a starting point. Already its development has brought together a fledgling Kiribati Deaf Association,” says Heather.

In June 2016, Heather secured a Disability Initiative Grant through the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program to assist with the establishment of the Kiribati Deaf Association. Australian volunteers were invited to apply for a Disability Initiative Grant to support activities that contribute to the core principles of disability inclusive development.

After 35 years in education, working with the hearing impaired in the Northern Territory, Heather is well placed to work with the staff at the school to tackle the challenges facing the students with special needs in Kiribati. “But there is so much more to learn from the staff and students,” explains Heather. “Their willingness to all pitch in and help each other, their spirit of giving, of welcoming outsiders and most importantly their sense of fun provides lessons to be remembered.”