Student turns teacher to pass on sign language

By Roger Moroney

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Cates Sabmeethavorn (left) runs through a few sign phrases with her "students" Hannah Gray (centre) and Kumal Kaur. Photo / Warren Buckland
Cates Sabmeethavorn (left) runs through a few sign phrases with her "students" Hannah Gray (centre) and Kumal Kaur. Photo / Warren Buckland

For Napier Sacred Heart College Year 13 student Cates Sabmeethavorn there was some learning to be done this week - but not by her.

She, instead, was the one doing the teaching and many of her schoolmates were delighted to take a few lessons from her.

Lessons in language, but no spoken language.

The 18-year-old, now in her final year at the college, was born deaf and around the age of 3, when her family shifted from Thailand to live in New Zealand, she began to learn sign language.

She also skilled herself to a high level of lip-reading and with the recent addition of a cochlear implant her communication skills are, as principal's secretary Lynda Pipe described it, "remarkable".

"She came to talk to the assembly this week - she is just a remarkable and inspirational young lady."

For Cates the timing was right to offer a few lessons in learning sign language as it was Sign Language Week.

She staged two sessions during the week and was delighted with the response from her pupils.

"It has gone really well and everyone has enjoyed it," she said.

With a smile she said she was delighted to see a couple of her library-based class later using sign language in the school canteen.

"They were ordering a pie - they did well."

She said while profoundly deaf, she had always wanted to enjoy and engage in life and would take that to another level after she leaves the college this year to study at Victoria University.

"I want to continue to build the bridge between deafness and hearing," she said, adding she would also take that into the community.

"I love helping others."

Her aim is to pursue a career working in textiles and design which she has excelled at.
She has also been a regular participant on the sports fields and courts.

"I love all sports."

Her only regret is that she will have to leave Sacred Heart this year.

"It is an amazing school and I've loved it here."

But she will leave a legacy behind as some of her younger sign language pupils, who have quickly picked up basic words and phrases, will very likely do their bit when Sign Language Week returns next year.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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