Wed, Oct 5, 2022 10:38 AM

Sign language star sparks interest in learning


Paula Hulburt

Standing at the door, a big smile on her face, Kmart retail assistant Eufrasia Middlemiss-Peneres happily welcomes customers.

A young girl walked in wearing hearing aids and the talented employee immediately switched to sign language.

Their chat was spotted by a fellow customer who posted on social media praising Eufrasia for her efforts - sparking a wave of interest in New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL).

“I love Sign Language, it connects us with people who are deaf, it is a special language.” Eurasia says.

“The girl was so happy when she saw I could sign. Sign language in Brazil is different from sign language here. In Brazil we use one hand and here it is two.”

Originally from San Paulo in Brazil, the former teacher taught herself how to sign to communicate with a 16-year-old student who was in juvenile detention.

“I was teachings maths in prison and there was this boy who didn’t speak, he wouldn’t look me in the eye.

“I asked my boss who told me the boy was deaf. There was no translator coming for him and that was no good, I wanted to study sign language to help.”

Eufrasia studied on the bus going to and from the prison every day; a round trip of about three hours a day.

“The first time I said ‘hello’ to him there was a huge smile on his face and he thanked me for helping him.”

Kmart retail assistant Eufrasia Middlemiss-Peneres has been hands-on welcoming customers to the store. Photo: Paula Hulburt.

Eufrasia, who married a Kiwi has lived in Blenheim for five years and is learning English at the Marlborough Multicultural Centre four times a week.

She started working at Kmart two years ago and says she has enjoyed meeting people through work and getting the chance to improve her English.

Getting the chance to use NZSL with a customer was “wonderful”, Eufrasia says.

“Learning English has been a long and slow. When I first arrived in New Zealand, I could understand a bit how deaf people felt as I could not understand anyone.

“That was very sad, I used a lot of translating on my phone.”

Eufrasia is a tutor at REAP Marlborough where she is currently teaching NZSL classes.

Since word got out in the community about her signing skills, Eufrasias’s evening class, due to start on 20 October, has been fully booked.

“I am so happy people want to learn,” she says.

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