In early August Lucy and Stuart visited the Arco Ltd HQ in Hull and collected an amazing donation of £8,597.48! This year Arco, the UK’s leading safety company, donated a portion of the profits from their hearing protection range to Sound Seekers and we are thrilled that they will continue to support us for at least another year.
Lucy (Sound Seekers CEO) blogs from a trip to Sierra Leone
Another African country where I’ve underpacked, thinking I was going to be sweating rather than shivering. Unlike my Malawi trip, I’d remembered to look at the weather forecast this time, but forgot that weather stations are quite a long way away from each other in Africa. And hence not to be relied upon. So yet again, I have to sport my running trainers with my proper clothes, watch the water seep up my freshly-ironed linen trousers from the ankles upwards, and wear my jumper in bed, with blankets stolen off other (unoccupied) beds in the room.
But apart from the chill, and glasses of wine being strictly verboten, what a treat. As a project, Cameroon has been at a standstill for too long, because we just couldn’t get traction with the Ministry of Health in the commercial capital, Douala. Then last year, Emily met Dr Everistus Acha, the ENT surgeon at the hospital run by the Cameroon Baptist Convention in North West Cameroon. He actually asked to work with us. And if I would dare to venture that I’ve learned anything over the last few years, it’s that “wanting” is the sine qua non of all development work.
We took a risk and sent one of Dr Acha’s nurses, Rephah Chia, to the University of Nairobi to do a year-long Audiology Diploma. This doesn’t make her a fully qualified audiologist, but she can do an awful lot: not least test hearing, identify problems, clean out wax, refer to ENT for further treatment, and fit hearing aids. Rephah is great. Her flight back from Nairobi was two days late, and it’s a six-hour drive from the airport to the hospital, but she still came to work straightaway, without resting or catching up with her family.
The hospital is beautiful. Here are some of the things that it has that British hospitals don’t have: Mountains. Mist. Lightning. Sodden chunks of cloud lingering on the hills. A chapel with a church service at 6.40am every day, with a choir rocking out and playing electric guitars. People sitting in the walkways eating food from plastic tiffin tins, knitting, playing cards, and setting up backgammon tournaments. Children doing gymnastics on the lawns, and washing drying on every hedge and wall. A market selling fresh fruit, and roast nuts – no vending machines.
A compulsory baby for (nearly) every patient. Children in school uniform marching purposefully through the grounds on their way to and from classes. I think I like all of this a lot. I also like how clean it was, and how patients pretty much looked happy, and how the doctors and nurses treated them with respect and tried to reduce waiting times. I liked the way the hospital administrator was organised and interested and kept the appointment we’d made to sign the contract for the project.
Conor Boland came with me. Conor is a UK audiologist who came as a volunteer. Both my bags were stashed full of audiological equipment, including a Hi-Pro, an audiometer, a tympanometer, and a stack of consumables. The hospital had already cunningly set aside space and built a sound-proofed area, so Conor created an audiology clinic in one morning – good job, Conor!
Rephah was seeing patients by the next day: the first fitting of hearing aids in that hospital for a long time. I was most moved by a teenage girl who came of her own accord because she couldn’t hear her friends. Conor and Rephah worked out that one ear was completely dead, and gave her a hearing aid to boost the other one. She said that maths was her favourite subject. It was mine too, so I hope she can hear more lovely algebra now.
On the Friday morning, I left Conor to do a further week’s training with Rephah, and headed back to London. This was a 24 hour journey punctuated only by stopping for a loo-trip and a bag of carrots on the road, like a big human-horse hybrid, and then a delicious glass of champagne with friends in Douala. I am trying to forget the airport chaos and Air France departure holding pen, helpfully moistened by a leaking loo, and remember the energy and fun of the hospital and the Baptist missionaries there. “May the Dear Lord be with you throughout this day”. Indeed. There are far worse ways to say goodbye.
Lucy (Sound Seekers CEO) tells us about her first trip to Malawi
My first time in Malawi. A huge welcome from the Bartletts at the ABC Hearing Clinic, who welcomed me into their family for the whole weekend, providing piles of pancakes and showing me round Lilongwe. The first time for seeing a roast mouse kebab (five little blackened corpses on a stick, which would make my cats feel like there was some justice in the world after all) and the second coldest I’ve been in Africa. The first coldest was in the volcanoes in Rwanda, when I was woefully underpacked. The same woeful underpacking had occurred this time, reducing me to wearing socks with sandals in a non-ironic way. And heating up a brick in the oven where I was staying, and taking it to bed with me. Although I had a fairly comprehensive moan about it, it was a good reminder about how tough life can be for the people Sound Seekers are trying to help. I was only there for a week, freezing but healthy and full of beans – and then heading home to a bizarrely warm England. Going on outreach with ABC Hearing Clinic and Project Compassion was the fresh shock all over again of how poor people really are, and how early treatment could make people happy and pain-free so much sooner than the reality. I saw Peter Bartlett and his team carefully and delicately dig out huge plugs of rock-solid, dark brown earwax that had been keeping people in silence for years. It took an hour to pull out a red bead from deep inside an old woman’s ear, with so much wax grown round it that she’d been unnecessarily deaf for far too long. I saw people queuing patiently for hours for ear infection treatment that would be sorted out in minutes back in prosperous England. And children so serious and hard-working that there was no chance of play audiometry, because they didn’t have any idea of an adult focusing on them and just having fun.
I hope we can do a lot more in Malawi, and we have the exciting prospect of extending our work there. I would love to deepen the audiology service in Blantyre, building with Dr Wakisa Mulwafu, the only ENT doctor in the country. We want to be greater than the sum of our parts, collaborating with other NGOs. We’re gratefully accepting help from the ABC Hearing Clinic with supporting our sponsored audiological associate in Blantyre for a week a month (thanks, Rosanna!) and hope that we’re helping them by sending a HARK mobile hearing clinic to make more outreach possible. The cold and the six hour wait in Addis Ababa airport are almost forgotten and forgiven when I remember the sun in Lilongwe, the poppadums bigger than my head in an Indian restaurant in Blantyre, and most of all seeing people hearing again after treatment. The brand-new Cadbury’s Dairy Milk flavour and the costumed dancers at the airport welcoming the inaugural direct flight from Kenya were pretty good too.
Earlier this year, Adonye Banigo volunteered for Sound Seekers in Ndola, Zambia. We asked him about his experience and what advice he would give to anyone planning to volunteer with Sound Seekers.
Q Why did you agree to volunteer for Sound Seekers in Zambia?
A Well, volunteering for Sound Seekers was sort of my idea. Sound Seekers provides a perfect combination of my chosen specialty as a doctor (Ear, Nose and Throat surgery) and my passion for improving the lives of children and adults in the developing world. I approached Sound Seekers in August 2011 and expressed my desire to volunteer, I also attended the AGM in December 2011 and saw some of the work being done. At the time there didn’t really seem to be any projects I could get involved in, until Emily Bell came along. And anyone who knows Emily knows how passionate she is about projects in the developing world. It was an interesting turn of events because I had got used to pestering Sound Seekers about getting onto a volunteer project; now I was having to explain to Emily that a year of volunteering was probably a bit too long for me! Next thing I knew I was jetting off to Lusaka. I was willing to go to any African country, really and Zambia just happened by chance, but I cannot emphasise how blessed and lucky I am to have visited such a beautiful country with amazing people.
Q How did it feel volunteering in an African country having lived in the U.K. for so long?
A It felt wonderful volunteering in an African country, it was easy to settle in and mix with the locals. I did voluntary work in Gambia and Senegal during medical school so I have had some experience of volunteering in Africa. I remember back then it struck me how different other West African countries were from my home country, Nigeria. Zambia was even more different, from the weather which distinctly lacked humidity to the tolerant calm people that always seemed willing to help. African countries are very unique with different healthcare needs, so I learnt the importance of targeting my volunteering experience to areas of most need.
Q What was the high point for you?
A The HARK! out-reach in Kanseshi Basic School for the deaf was an amazing experience. It was a busy two days where we saw many students and tested their hearing. What made it special was seeing how the students did not let their hearing and speech impairment affect their ability to interact. They were outgoing, confident and entertaining.
In a brief interlude during the day, we had a deaf musician perform and he got everyone on their feet showing off their dance moves. Emma Case photographed many of these fantastic moments.
Q What do you feel you gained from the experience?
A I learnt that even though I am still in training to become a qualified ENT surgeon, I have acquired knowledge and skills I can use to improve the lives of deaf people in the developing world. I gained more confidence and a feeling of self-worth, a contrast to life working in the NHS where one can feel insignificant and not appreciated at times. From all the staff I met in the different hospitals I visited in Zambia, I have gained a lot of friends who are like my family now and I know we will continue to keep in touch for many years to come.
Q How do you feel the work Sound Seekers does makes a difference in developing countries?
A Sound Seekers is doing significant work in developing countries and making a huge impact on many lives. The HARK! outreach service provides primary ear care to individuals in remote areas. The training courses funded by Sound Seekers are building local knowledge and expertise. The equipment we supply is aiding diagnosis and treatment of ear, nose and throat disorders. Now we are looking to set up local training courses in Zambia for ENT clinical officers, which will help boost the numbers of clinicians with ENT expertise in the country. I feel privileged to be a part of Sound Seekers and I hope more funding becomes available to help support our work.
Q What three pieces of advice do you have for other potential volunteers?
A Do it, do it, do it! Volunteering for Sound Seekers is an experience that will stay with you for life for all the right reasons. And because Sound Seekers is a relatively small organisation, it is personable and has a close-knit group of staff that will make sure you are looked after when you volunteer. If you don’t quite feel up to jetting off to an African country you know little about, there are lots of other ways you can volunteer by raising money locally through charity events, etc. Get in touch with the very nice Sound Seekers team for more info.
Q If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and why?
A I would eradicate poverty and the disparity between the rich and the poor because poverty is a common denominator in individuals in developing countries with poor health.
Q What are your future plans? Are there any more missions on the horizon?
A I have lots of plans for the future, but in relation to volunteering I have no further missions planned as yet but watch this space…
Kiwani’s International UK Brixton Branch are holding a fundraising concert in aid of Sound Seekers at 7.30pm on Friday 16th September.
The concert is being held at the Leighton House Museum on Holland Park Road, London, and will feature a piano and soprano recital by three incredibly talented soloists, who will perform a selection of music and songs from a classical tradition. Perhaps more interestingly, the programme will also feature work from the African-American composer John Wesley Work, and also a selection of Jamaican folk songs.
Tickets cost £35, or £20 for concessions, and include an interval drink.