My wife Joanna will be running in the Vitality British London 10K run through Central London next Sunday, 12th July. She’s really looking forward to it and has been training hard, not only because she will be running with thousands of people past iconic London landmarks such as Big Ben, The Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s Cathedral and Buckingham Palace, but also because she hopes to raise money for a really fantastic charity, which we both love to support.
It’s a small UK-based charity called Sound Seekers, but the work they do makes a huge difference to people’s lives. They help deaf people, particularly children, in the poorest communities of the developing world, particularly Africa.
Deaf children in Africa haven’t got access to the services that we take for granted in the UK such as a good education, the provision of hearing aids and cochlear implants on the NHS and access to audiology and free basic healthcare. For instance, in Zambia, one of the countries where Sound Seekers have been working, there is only one trained audiologist in the entire country, which has a population of 16 million people.
With over 50% of the population living in poverty there, there is no money and little incentive to provide deaf children with the help that they need to get an education, stop them feeling socially isolated and unable to communicate with others, improve their life chances and employment prospects. Most of them end up being the poorest and most disadvantaged in their society.
But also, people living in Africa are much more likely to be deaf or have a hearing loss than in developed countries like ours because they are much more likely to have ear infections and health conditions, which go untreated. This often leads to significant hearing loss and deafness. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) up to 50% of hearing loss cases could be prevented, and many very early on, through early hearing screening and basic ear and healthcare.
Sound Seekers works in many areas to tackle these issues. They partner with hospitals, usually government hospitals, to develop audiology services in many African countries. They also partner with schools for the deaf to provide specialist teacher training and sign language training, as well as upgrading their teaching facilities and the infrastructure.
They also work with mainstream schools to train teachers on deaf awareness and what they should do if they suspect a child in their class has hearing loss, to avoid them dropping out of school altogether.
They have introduced targeted paediatric hearing screening services in Sierra Leone and Zambia, and they have a new project in Zambia on primary ear and healthcare, aimed at trying to prevent ear infections and conditions leading to permanent hearing loss.
One country where they have done a lot of work is Malawi. They launched their ‘Hear in Malawi’ fundraising appeal and project last year with the help of Sam Evans, a former ‘Big Brother’ contestant, who has been involved in filming their project. Through their fundraising, they are currently building a comprehensive audiology unit in Blantire, Malawi, with the building of the clinic already underway.
Dr Courtney Caron, a qualified audiologist from America, is volunteering in Blantire for four years and is apparently brilliant. She and her team have already helped many deaf children there such as Happy, who you can see in the photo below. Happy is a ten-year old boy, who lost his hearing three years ago. He was bullied at school and felt completely isolated as a result of his hearing loss. He remained in the same class at school for three years.
Dr Caron recently fitted him with two donated hearing aids. From being really withdrawn, Happy now feels much happier and more confident in himself. He has even moved up a year in school. They hope to help thousands more Happys in the work that they’re doing out there.
Dr Caron and her team have also managed to bring about the first two successful cochear implant operations in Malawi carried out by the British cochlear implant surgeon Dr David Strachan last year. Joyce, a nine-year old girl, and fifteen-year old Richard, both became profoundly deaf a few years ago as a result of illness. In Malawi no surgeon is trained to carry out a cochlear implant operation and the children’s parents couldn’t possibly have afforded it anyway, so it was really great that MED-EL (the company which makes the cochlear implant devices) donated the cochlear implants and Dr Strachan agreed to carry out the operations.
They wouldn’t have agreed to it if they hadn’t been convinced that Dr Caron and her team would give Richard and Joyce all the rehabilitative support they needed both before and after the operation and switch-on.
I was pleased to hear that Joyce and Richard’s cochlear implant surgeries went really well and that they are both now hearing much better and getting used to their new hearing environment. I am really pleased for them both and wish them both well. It’s wonderful for them to have been the first people in their country to have this life-changing surgery.
It’s really important that the projects Sound Seekers are involved in are sustainable and support the local communities there. That’s why capacity building of African people is at the charity’s core. Wherever possible, they delegate project administration to local people, providing employment opportunities. Examples are training existing nurses in Cameroon, The Gambia and Zambia to provide audiology services, providing them with equipment and using volunteer audiologists from the UK and abroad to help train them. They are also supporting Dr Alfred Mwamba (the only audiologist in Zambia) to set up a diploma training course for local people in audiology in Lusaka, Zambia.
It is really important that everyone living with hearing loss throughout the world has equal access to the same basic standards of education, healthcare and audiology that we take for granted here. That reality may seem a long way off but I think that the work that Sound Seekers is doing in Africa is helping enormously. As a small charity, though, they rely on our support and donations to keep it going and develop it further, helping to lift people out of poverty and isolation, as well as providing local training and employment opportunities.
It would be really wonderful if you could help support their work by donating whatever you can via my wife’s online fundraising page (link below). We would really appreciate it a lot. As for me, I’ll be there cheering her over the finish line!
Joanna’s fundraising page: http://bit.ly/1RmhoqA
Sound Seekers website: http://bit.ly/1LPqnST
Sound Seekers Twitter handle: @SoundSeekers
Thanks very much to Sound Seekers for permission for me to use their photos!