Q & A with Sign Language Interpreter & Translator

As the world commemorates every month of September as the deaf month, NTU News Zimbabwe decided to interview Martin Rinoona who became deaf at the age of nine (9) and he is the only deaf who is an interpreter as well as a translator.

Apart from the challenging side, Nyasha Nhau (NN)of NTU News Zimbabwe will be leading Rinoona (MR) to tell the deafinately side of his life under NTU News Africa September theme Deafinately Global.

NNNTU News Africa readers would want to know who is Martin Rinoona, can you fully introduce yourself?

MR: I am Martin Rinoona a young man aged 36 from Mutoko where l spent nearly twelve (12) years, l started my education there, born speaking and hearing very well before l became deaf, am the third born in a family of eight, l live in Chitungwiza and l am a sign language interpreter as well as a translator.

NN: What happened for you to become deaf?

MR: At the age of nine (9) I got an undisclosed illness which led me to spent a year in Mutoko General Hospital. The day l was discharged my mother noticed that I was no longer hearing anything, she told the doctor who decided that l should stay for another few days but they failed to diagnose the cause and finalized that l was going to live like that (deaf) for the rest of my life.

NN: How was your communication at home, in the community and at school soon after?

MR: The communication barriers distanced me away from family members and friends at school, I could no longer hear anything barely slurred when speaking and my school grades dropped off.

Teachers told my parents that I was only qualified to stay at home. Sometimes l used to go home with scars on my body because teachers used to beat me, my parents were troubled and decided to find a special school for me.

In 1994 I left the former school to Nyadire boarding located about nearly 50 kilometers from home, I started from grade zero (0) where I could be in grade five (5), there were few deaf and many hearing students only separated in classes and l did not have a language at that time.

NN: Can you share your experiences for being in a class of deaf students for the first time?

MR: At first it was very difficult to accept, l would sometimes force myself to speak properly and trying to hear but all were in vain.

I used to see classmates hands movements not knowing that it was a language which I should learn for communication purpose I realized it lately. A deaf friend taught me some signs, l started to grasp things slowly, lately I mastered the language and happily have lots of deaf friends then admitted that I was not alone with the deafness.

NN: How was your performance at school.

MR: I improved with each passing day and night, when I completed primary level my father forced me to learn to read lips it was not easy but I tried and it worked he even thought it was better for me to leave special school for the deaf.

At form one in a hearing school I suffered again, poor performance because of hearing challenges but my father did not want me to use sign language (SL) so I continued until l finished my ordinary level and failed all nine (9) subjects.

NN: And what happened next?

MR: Because I grew up loving school I went back to ordinary level, rewrite my examinations, I passed five (5) but english language was a very hard subject for me because l was writing broken caused by deaf language structure.

I sacrificed much of my energy and time on improving English, wrote it four (4) times and failed then l made it the fifth time with an outstanding grade.

After that I did not managed to continue with my education since my parents were gone so I decided to do a small business around the city of Harare selling airtime and other small units.

NN: So you are still into vending?

MR: I did it for a short period of time and opted for something good. I studied bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses where I finally found many deaf people and my SL was affected years back when I stopped going to school, so l had to start again learning it with more curious and I became a deaf community preacher, many of them studied the word of God and became fishers of men.

That was my first step to change the deaf community bringing them to Christ. Because of my good communication skills in SL someone took me to a translation department where I started working as a translator, years later I left the organization came back home before I got a job as an assistant teacher at a deaf primary school and many kids learnt SL for the first time from me, teachers were using general signs I taught them and they became better.

Since it was a contract I continued with the routes of teaching sign many schools around Chitungwiza and Harare which made many organizations connected with me and l assisted them in transforming the deaf community.

NN: Why did you chose sign language as a career?

MR: I wanted to help bridging the communication gap since it was my biggest challenge from childhood so l wanted to change the communities to be a better communicable environment between the deaf and hearing people.

NN: What are your other achievements.

MR: I worked at one of the largest organizations Deaf Zimbabwe Trust as a school teacher and deaf interpreter, it helped me to acquire knowledge on how to work with deaf people in the community and I was leading all SL trainings gotten a certificate of educating deaf and hearing people lawfully.

I gained a lot of experience at the same time the community was improving including in government and private sectors on health, legal and education, communication got much better.

The best achievement came when I joined Sunrise Sign Language Academy the Executive Director Mr Douglas Mapeta noticed that I was very good but still needed to learn more in SL so he sharpened my skills and l did very well in my SL Interpreters degree thereby becoming the only deaf interpreter in Zimbabwe who is doing translation.

I am working with Sunrise Sign Language Academy in training interpreters and SL to both government and non-governmental organizations as well as individuals.

NN: In this global pandemic covid-19 how are you using your communication skills?

MR: I am giving brief news related to Covid-19 in SL videos and all the news that have to do with the nation.

NN: Considering your experience do you think that sign language in Zimbabwe is now a force to reckon with such as in our neighboring countries like South Africa?

MR: Since when it was made an official language in the constitution there are still problems that it is still behind other languages, for example most languages are in spoken or written forms where deaf people do not understand which is causing a gap in communication.

Breaking and alert news need to include sign language so that deaf people understand in their own. It is actually abusing our rights to access to information, languages have to be treated equally hence people in government and private sectors needs to understand why we need them to include our language.

There are also those who are learning sign language before acquiring knowledge and skills hence misleading other people with wrong sign language.

NN: Do you think deaf people are being treated well both in families, schools and communities among other public places?

MR: Deaf people are ill-treated in families as compared to hearing siblings. In schools we have challenges of teachers not able to communicate with deaf learners hence the future automatically dies, while doctors and nurses are giving us wrong treatment due to language barriers.

NN: What do you think that government should do to support and empower the deaf community?

MR: Government ministries must be trained SL and have deaf workers in all it’s departments.

Deaf people need to be fully included in programs that improve their lives as well as in different community initiatives.

NN: What is your advice to the parents of children with hearing impairement?

MR: They should be taught SL to communicate with their children as language acquisition rests with the parents being the primary instructors.

Many children suffer from poor language development because parents do not know how to communicate.

NN: Martin Rinoona lastly, what is your word of advice to the deaf people.

MR: The Deaf can be anything they want in life but it needs one to be focused in life. Also my deaf colleagues we should keep on fighting for our rights.

NN: Thank you Martin for your precious time.

MR: You are welcome my brother Nyasha.

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