Malawian women who will lead their country’s audiology service

Malawian women who will lead their country’s audiology service

Lucy (former Chief Executive) focusses on some of Sound Seekers inspiring women.

Sound Seekers women are making the world better for people with hearing loss.  In HQ, the Chair and Vice-Chair are inspiring, successful professional women.  Our accountant is a woman.  Our CEO, programme manager and programme assistant are all women.  We’ve even managed to persuade our auditors to stop sending us letters that start “Dear Sirs”. And at the moment, we have two female audiologists giving up months of their lives to set up or improve services by providing shoulder-to-shoulder training to healthcare professionals in Tanzania, Zambia and Cameroon. Our collaborative working styles and mutual support have enabled us to transform Sound Seekers in the last two years.

But the real success story, that I want to shout about, is our African women in the field.  Shannon Kruyt, our consultant audiologist in South Africa, only works for us one day a week. And yet in that time, she’s pulled together a tele-audiology project between Cape Town and Zambia, and has performed the first remote hearing-aid fitting in sub-Saharan Africa. This brings hope to hundreds of people who are “difficult” cases; they will no longer have to travel vast distances or wait months for help from someone more experienced.  The audiology technician in Zambia, Olipa, who actually screamed with joy when she heard that Emily, our programme manager, was moving to Lusaka.  Rephah, the only audiology officer in her hospital in Cameroon, calmly running a whole audiology clinic on her own, never complaining of being lonely or things being too hard.  Yaka, in Gambia, desperate to improve her skills so that she can give even better care to children.  Monica in Sierra Leone, who isn’t actually African but might as well be, as she spends more time there than in the UK – utterly dedicated and running the only audiology service in the whole country.  For free.


Shannon doing tele audiology (1024x833)
                       (above)  Shannon in a live tele-audioogy session
And it’s Malawi where the women are starting to shine the most.  Go, ladies. You probably already know that we’ve launched one of our most exciting projects ever in this country. Working with the Queen Elizabeth Public Hospital there, we will deliver a comprehensive audiology service for Southern Malawi. For people living here at the moment with hearing loss, they would have to drive the equivalent of Portsmouth to Glasgow to try to get an audiology appointment.  We are going to build a clinic and provide all the equipment needed for an audiological service.   So far, so good.  But Africa is littered with crumbling buildings and broken, dusty, unused donated equipment.  I’ve seen it piled up in hot crowded rooms, taking up space, a gloomy monument to thoughtless giving – but no-one feels empowered to throw it away.  Why will we be different?


Because of three extraordinary women.

Courtney in scrubs 1 first cochlear implant in Malawi
Dr Courtney Caron, (in scrubs for the first cochlear implant in Malawi, right), an American audiologist working for us for only basic living expenses for four years. Although those basic living expenses do seem to include occasional mango daiquiris by the pool as well as mouse kebabs, so I might have to review them. Downwards. Anyway, she is there now, setting up the service pretty much from scratch, and building the capacity of the clinical officer team.

Mwanaisha Phiri and Alinane Mtonya, currently audiology technicians, who we are going to sponsor through a MSc in audiology in the UK. Courtney will then supervise their 18 month clinical practice when they return to Malawi. Making them not only Malawi’s first fully qualified Malawian audiologists, but the first female home-grown audiologists in Malawi – and in sub-Saharan Africa – who will lead an audiology service for their country.

Mwanaisha and Alinane are talented, driven and really, really care. No-one deserves this break more than they do.  And one of my happiest memories of Malawi ever is of Mwanaisha, (below) usually quite shy and reserved, suddenly busting out a storming poetry performance at the launch of the audiology project in Blantyre in June.  It was virtually a rap. It was a revelation.

The first three years of this project should see Courtney, Mwanaisha, Alinane and the team treating ten thousand children and adults. That’s a lot of lives changed.  A lot of children being able to stay in school. A lot of adults being able to stay in work.   We hope that the Blantyre Belles are proud.

I just checked my last blog and found some promises to talk about:

1) the British Army brass and wind band playing a concert to launch the Malawi project

2) signing the MOU (woo hoo!)

3) failing to notice being chatted up at Chez Maky

4) Wakisa’s new baby

5) and being freezing yet again while everyone in the UK sweltered in the June heat wave

So here we go.

The Army Band were fantastic!

British Army. These guys rocked.  There was a marching band through the hospital, with a Pied Piper trail of patients, visitors, children of patients, children of visitors…probably other relatives of all these groups too. Thank you, Colonel Barry.

Signing the MOU. I LOVE  a signing! It makes me feel important and validated.  We were particularly excited about this one, because it really was jointly negotiated, with compromises on both sides.  It didn’t feel like the donor just handing over pages of legalese and the other partner boredly stamping the document.

Failing to notice being chatted up. Oh dear oh dear. Picture the scene.

Me, sitting there quietly working (9pm. Note dedication).

Fairly attractive man from the United Nation: “Would you like this glass of wine?”

Me, utterly mystified: “oh, is it left over?”

Him: “No, I am buying you a drink”.

I must learn some social graces.

Lupa 1
Lovely little baby Lupa

Wakisa’s baby.  All I can say is aaaaaaah. Little Lupa is gorgeous.

Being freezing in Africa again. Do you remember how hot mid-June was? I was wearing jeans, knee-length socks, trainers, three jumpers and huddled over a fire pit with a slightly runny cold nose like a puppy. Just saying.

Also in my last blog, I explained that no mice were hurt in its making. I am a little worried that some feelings might have been hurt in the making of this one.   So, I should say that although Sound Seekers is driven by women, we have some great men.  Dr Roger Green, our technical adviser for the Malawi project,  who is meant to be peacefully retired but has virtually turned into an unpaid employee and audiology lecturer. Some great Board and Projects Committee members.  And poor Stuart, our wonderful operations manager,  who puts up with me ranting on and on about “centuries of oppression by men of women” and just carries on quietly being rather marvellous and making my work possible.

Thanks, chaps.

But mainly, today  –  thanks to the women.

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