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Whangārei caregiver, Santana Ngawharau has overcome communication barriers to succeed. 

Santana carries out housekeeping and laundry duties at Metlifecare’s Whangārei Park retirement village. Being profoundly Deaf, Santana’s first language is New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) and not English. Despite not having other people in her workplace who are fluent in New Zealand Sign Language, Santana navigates communication using a combination of lip reading and NZSL which she has shared with others around her.

With her own determination and support from her employer, Santana has completed her New Zealand Certificate in Cleaning (Level 2) with workplace learning provider Careerforce | Te Pūkenga.  She has now enrolled in the Certificate in Cleaning (Level 3) Contagion and Specialised Infection Control programme, also with Careerforce, and also completed via on-job training.

“I enjoy the cleaning responsibilities, as well as building relationships with the residents,” says Santana. “I really enjoy conversing with each of the residents when I’m collecting their laundry, teaching them sign language and supporting them during mealtimes.”

Left to right: Hineoma Paekau-Rush (CF), Santana Ngawharau, Ramari Dewes (CF), Dara Davenport (CF)

Claire Wolmarans, a Metlifecare workplace assessor has been an assessor for many years, working with people who have a disability, dyslexia or other learning difficulties.

“I feel honoured to have been able to work with Santana. She really is amazing,” says Claire.

“When it came to Santana doing her first assessments, I thought it might be difficult for her, but it wasn’t at all.  She was so keen, and it became a great learning for both of us.”

New Zealand Relay Interpreter is a great service

Santana was excited about the opportunity to learn and develop her skills, describing her employer as very supportive and helpful, yet says she was still quite nervous.

“The New Zealand Relay interpreter is a great service,” says Claire. “In the beginning, I used the service quite a lot, but now we are able to communicate between ourselves, and we rarely use one.”

Santana eagerly attended technical and cleaning training including all the chemical training. She has the knowledge from reading the learning sections, though expressing this in written English was difficult. Claire was able to be her ‘writer’, doing all the writing for the assessments. 

 “Santana was so enthusiastic. I would give her the learning guides and she would go through them reading and re-reading them, so that when it came to the tasks to be completed and assessed, it was so much easier for her to show me the tasks that were relevant to her in her work,” says Claire.

“For the technical aspects, we knew a lot of the learning and assessment would be hands-on. In the chemical room she would show me how she would do the task. I would write it down, and she would confirm if it was correct.”

Valuable learnings gained at Careerforce noho marae event 

Santana took up the offer to attend a 2-day Noho Marae at Hokianga run by Careerforce for learners who identify as Māori, and who wanted a little extra support.  Santana described the Noho Marae event as a positive experience, and she enjoyed the opportunity to interact with some of the Careerforce staff using New Zealand Sign Language.

“There were people who could assist and I gained some valuable learnings and help with my assessment work,” says Santana.

Santana is popular and well loved by the residents and her colleagues at the Whangārei Park retirement village, according to Claire.

One of Santana’s colleagues in the laundry is learning NZ Sign Language as well as many of the residents. In the dining room, there is a large hand sign for people to be able to learn, and Santana has used the board to demonstrate to the residents how to sign.

The learning was challenging at times, Santana admits, but is now really thrilled to have completed her Level 2 cleaning qualification, and is now looking forward to completing the Level 3 qualification.

A key focus at Careerforce | Te Pūkenga is to respect the unique differences, learning practices and challenges of Māori, Pacific and disabled learners, and invest in appropriate supports, to achieve equitable outcomes. Contact Careerforce to find out how you or your staff might benefit from additional learning support.

More information

For more information about the full range of Careerforce health and wellbeing programmes, contact Careerforce, a division of Te Pūkenga.

Santana shared her story via a free government funded NZ Relay Service interpreter. New Zealand Relay Services (