A former Manukau Institute of Technology staff member has helped compile Vanuatu's first sign language dictionary.
Jacqui Iseli leaves for Vanuatu on June 19 to spend two months as a Volunteer Service Abroad volunteer, helping to train teachers to use the dictionary. Mrs Iseli, who was student support adviser for disabilities at MIT from 2008 to 2010, compiled the dictionary on an earlier VSA assignment with the Sanma Frangipani Association in Luganville, the main town on the island of Espiritu Santo.
It is made up of photos taken from video clips of more than 1000 home signs - the basic signs developed by deaf people in the absence of sign language. The first print run of 500 copies has now been sent to to the association which works with people with disabilities.
Mrs Iseli will help it distribute the dictionary and also train four teacher aides to use it with their deaf students. The New Zealand sign language interpreter and tutor says the dictionary will help boost the self-esteem of deaf people who are often too shy to use their signs in public and will make it easier for hearing people to communicate with them.
"It's only the beginning but it will help develop some similarity between the home signs used by younger deaf people so they can communicate more easily with each other," she says. Deafness is relatively widespread in Vanuatu. Causes include tropical diseases such as dengue fever and malaria, as well as infections such as German measles and meningitis.
But Vanuatu does not have its own sign language although its government is looking at introducing Melanesian Sign Language from Papua New Guinea for education purposes. The new dictionary will help provide deaf Ni-Vanuatu with a more consistent way of communicating in the meantime.