Comprehensive Audiology in Malawi

Comprehensive Audiology in Malawi

Lucy (Sound Seekers CEO) reports back on a recent packed trip to Malawi.

This was my favourite ever Africa trip, I think – possibly even better than when I went on safari in Tanzania (paid for by my dear mother, as I was only a volunteer then, despite my advanced years).  Looking at my trip report afterwards, I can see that it was packed with work, but it almost felt like a holiday because it was so much fun.

Malawi has become our flagship project; we are launching a comprehensive audiology service in Blantyre (Southern Malawi) which will be led by Malawians in two years, under the supervision of a wonderful American audiologist, Dr Courtney Caron. We are going to train two committed and inspiring Malawian women to be audiologists – the first ever Malawian audiologists – and we will also build a fully equipped audiology clinic.  It will help many thousands of adults and children: supporting adults to get and stay in jobs and children to be able to get to and stay in school.  We are very excited about it.

I travelled with our new Chair, Denise. It was such a treat to have a companion on the journey, especially one with a separate – and very full – bag of snacks. Our first day in-country wasn’t really that high-achieving: although Denise is youthful, I am beginning to feel my age and now need to sleep after long, uncomfortable flights with horrible Ethiopian Airlines food rather than bouncing into meetings. And on that topic,  I’ll need a separate post to convey my full loathing of Ethiopian Airlines; I just need to get over my temper first.  Lilongwe was beautiful as always: we went there first to catch up with our partners at the African Bible College campus.  Pete and Rebecca Bartlett have created a clinic here, staffed by a crack team of Malawians, and it’s the happy home of a Sound Seekers mobile clinic.

Dr Courtney CaronWe were super-excited to finally meet Dr Courtney Caron, the American audiologist mentioned earlier: (pictured left in action at the clinic) she was spending a month with Hearing For Humanity, starting in Lilongwe, before beginning her three years with us.  If we had had any fears about recruiting someone over the phone; they disappeared immediately: Courtney is an absolute star. In fact, I am thinking of going part-time and letting her do most of my job too. We saw her in action with tiny babies, gently testing hearing, and reassuring mothers – and we had serious talks with her about the scale of the challenge of moving to Malawi, managing multiple levels of officialdom, and setting up a whole audiology service. I felt a warm rush of relief at the end of our main meeting, when I said “So, basically, you’ll just create and run an audiology service, yes?” and Courtney just nodded and said “yes, that should be fine”.  I’ll check in on her three years later to make sure everything’s done to a high standard. That’s what I call good, light-touch programme management.

Denise and I had a very positive chat with one of the senior officials in the Ministry of Health; (outside the Ministry below) he was friendly and warm and extremely chilled about us just wandering in because he hadn’t written the meeting down, and had forgotten about it. We’ve worked so hard to really co-design this project with Malawian people, and it felt like he knew this and wanted to make sure it was a success.


The only bad thing about the Lilongwe leg was increasing my list of “Children Who Look Terrified Of Me And Try To Run Away”. Here’s the best one: a gorgeous little baby. His mother wanted me to hold him but he had other ideas.  You can see how hard he is trying to get away.  His entire strength went into his little arms and legs trying to push off and launch himself absolutely anywhere other than where he was.
Lucy with a reluctant baby.
Lucy with a reluctant baby.

Then to Blantyre, starting at early o’clock on the 7am coach on the Sunday morning. By then, Denise’s and my heads were swollen from being introduced so many times in Lilongwe as the Chair and CEO of Sound Seekers. We were quickly deflated by finding out, arriving at the coach station, that there was no red carpet and no uniformed flunky to greet us. Instead, I had a text from our hotel just casually saying that they’d double booked and there was no room for us. Thanks for nothing, Kabula Lodge!!! I still haven’t got round to my Trip Advisor review, but it won’t be kind.  We sat forlornly on a wall with our suitcases, plotting what to do. Hurray for building great relationships in Malawi, though, because Dr Wakisa immediately recommended Chez Maky, a lodge run by his friend. And then Mwanaisha, one of the Malawian nurses who’ll we sponsor for training, came to rescue us and take us there. We had a gorgeous little cottage to ourselves, peacefully guarded by just a few small but terrifyingly poisonous spiders. I didn’t mind them at first, but Denise looked worried. Denise is Australian and keeps fully grown crocodiles as pets, and if she’s scared of a spider, so am I.

The next post will feature the triple excitement of the British Army brass and wind band playing a concert to launch the Malawi project, signing the MOU (woo hoo!) and my failing to notice being chatted up at Chez Maky. Oh, and Wakisa’s new baby. And being freezing yet again while everyone in the UK sweltered in the June heatwave.

No mice were harmed in the making of this blog. Yet again, it wasn’t mouse-kebab season. But our taxi driver did give us his view on the perfect mousey snack: “the legs should snap like spaghetti”.  Actually, he said “Spaghett” (losing the final “i” is quite normal in East Africa). I thought he said “baguette”. It took quite a long time to clear that up.

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