Teen leader wants to spread deaf awareness

ANNA TURNER
Last updated 05:00 17/06/2013
Rachel Berry, deaf awareness
DON SCOTT/Fairfax NZ

NATURAL LEADER: Christchurch teenager Rachel Berry, 18, has been recognised for helping deaf young Cantabrians and raising other people's awareness of deafness and the deaf community.

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Growing up unable to hear what other kids could was anything but "a breeze" for Christchurch teenager Rachel Berry.

Berry, 18, attended a mainstream school and said she was always identified as "different" and "weird".

However, Berry is now drawing on those experiences to help other deaf teenagers accept themselves just as they are.

Her work recently earned Berry the Deaf Aotearoa Magnet Youth Award for being a "natural and true leader" in the deaf community of Canterbury.

The Avonside Girls' High School student, whose parents are also deaf, decided to become more involved in Canterbury's deaf community after the earthquakes.

"At the time there were no events specifically for the youth in Christchurch.

"I felt like the deaf community was starting to fade away and we would never get to experience what the deaf adults did.

"I thought I should just pluck up the courage and do something for myself, for my future generations, for our deaf community as a whole," she said.

Berry began working with Deaf Aotearoa's youth programme, Magnet, helping to organise its recent Deaf Youth Changing Attitudes Camp in Christchurch.

She was also a tutor during New Zealand Sign Language week, visiting schools and businesses to teach basic sign language.

"Many deaf youth, like me, struggle to find their identity.

"Do we belong in the deaf world, or do we belong in the hearing, or do we belong in both?" she said.

"All we need to do is teach New Zealand, the world even, about deafness. The more aware they are, the more chance they treat us as an equal."

Berry has hung the Magnet Youth Award on her wall to remind her every day to "try her hardest" and plans to become a fulltime youth deaf worker when she leaves school.

"I will always lend a hand for my deaf community."

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- The Press

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