Emerusenge on her career as a sign language translator


Emerusenge was inspired by a childhood friend to learn sign language translation. (Courtesy photo)

As a child, Gisele Emerusenge experienced communication challenges with her friend with hearing impairment. This motivated her to learn sign language interpretation to effectively communicate with her friend and, contribute to the wellbeing of the deaf community. The graduate in Business Management Procurement and Logistics also works at Starkey Hearing Foundation as a counsellor and coordinator in aftercare service. She is often times found at conferences and meetings interpreting for the deaf. The 24-year-old had a chat with Women Today’s Sharon Kantengwa about her journey so far.

When did you start your career in sign language interpretation?

 I can’t really trace when I started because I have been doing sign language interpretation since childhood. Growing up in a deaf community, with a close friend who had hearing impairment, I had to learn sign language to make it easy for me to communicate with her. The more I got close to her, the more I learned.

Girls your age have many aspirations. What makes you passionate about helping people with hearing loss?

The difficulty my friend had in communicating with her mum and teachers, and my ability to offer help pushed me to realise that there is an intervention that I can give to people with hearing impairment. I was encouraged to get some training because in my community, nobody was willing to learn and help people with hearing impairment. After completing secondary school, I joined Rwanda National Union for the Deaf (RNUD) and I got the basic skills in the language.

Having qualified in the business field, have you thought of venturing into something else?

Since I graduated, I have not had time to do anything else other than sign language interpretation because it is a very demanding job due to the few interpreters we have in this country. I got to work with Starkey because it also deals with people with hearing impairment. I don’t even have time to think about another career. I feel like I belong to my work.

A few months from now, I will be pursuing a Master’s degree in ‘Special needs and Rehabilitation,’ and sign language is part of it. I don’t need to further sign language though because I am fluent in it but I want to stay in that community of helping people with special needs.

Why do you think we have few interpreters in this country?

Having a few of them is one of the reasons I chose to take this career seriously. Many people are not aware of the need for sign language interpretation, and most of the deaf find it odd for someone without hearing loss to communicate with them. Due to the Rwandan history, the disability movement is new and we are only starting to develop it by harmonising the Sign Language dictionary. It’s a new language and people are not aware of it. Even the interpreters we have are not professional because we don’t have a school for it. We need more schools because RNUD only teaches the basics. Interpreters here get better by experience.

What do you find challenging about your work?

People forget that it is just like any other language. Many times, I have encountered situations where people want me to volunteer for sign language interpretation yet they pay other interpreters. Some organisations and individuals do not value sign language yet it’s a language like any other. Most organisations that get to pay us are those that work with disability issues.


What do you like most about your job?

That moment in a meeting when I’m interpreting to the deaf and I see them giving ideas that contribute to society. I feel proud of my services.

Have your parents been supportive of your work?

Right now they are supportive because they see the rewards that come with sign language interpretation.   Initially I wanted to pursue a course in sign language but my parents were not so supportive of the idea and having no one to look up to, I gave up on the idea. They became supportive when they saw the value of my work.

In your career, have you seen young people look up to you?

Yes. The first is my sister, a high school graduate who is planning to study sign language interpretation. She knows some basics but wants to specialise in that field. I always encourage her to go for it, even if I didn’t get the opportunity to study sign language. I encourage young girls to go for what they are passionate about.