In a mysterious way

The need to pray with a deaf person was the start of a career as a sign language interpreter

By: Johnny Baltzersen, CICED 

The name is Jonathan Livingstone. He is one of the first sign language interpreters in Tanzania.

‘It all started back in early 1997. Together with others in my community, I was building a chapel. A deaf teenager came by and wanted to talk and get help to pray,’ Johanthan says via email from Dar es Salaam.

‘At first we wrote everything down, but after a few months I got tired of all the writing and asked the young man if there were any other ways we could communicate? Sure, I could just learn sign language!”

As they say, it’s done. Jonathan took his first courses in April and August 1997, and since then he has done countless sign language interpreting assignments.

Jonathan is on the executive board of the Tanzanian Association of Sign Language Interpreters TASLi and has been working with CICED since 2014.

‘The projects with CICED and CHAVITA are a tremendous help in improving sign language interpreting. I have learned a lot myself and am now able to teach sign language courses as well. There is a long way to go before we can be satisfied with the level of sign language interpreting in Tanzania, but I think we are well on our way’.

Like Dickson Mveyange from CHAVITA, Jonathan Livingstone points to the need to have sign language standardized and have sign language recognized on an equal footing with other languages in Tanzania.

‘Skilled sign language interpreters will play a very important role in breaking the exclusion of deaf people in society. With high-quality sign language, we can help show that deaf people can take an active part in society,’ Jonathan concludes.

TASLI, CHAVITA and CICED are working together to develop a project focused on getting sign language recognized on an equal footing with other languages in Tanzania.

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