Lucy blogs from Africa and reflects on how being deaf in the UK is rather different to being deaf in Africa.
I almost missed my plane to Kenya yesterday because of my hearing. The departures board in Dar Es Salaam airport had directed me to gate 5, where I sat reading my Kindle. Every so often a group of people would depart through gate 5, and each time I would join them, only to be told it wasn’t my flight. So I sat down again, and resumed reading. Quite by chance, a passing airport official spotted my boarding card and looked alarmed, telling me that the gate had changed, that there had been announcements on the PA system – announcements I clearly hadn’t heard (or hadn’t heard properly). She charged through the airport with me trotting along behind and I made the flight. Just.
This kind of thing doesn’t happen to me often, luckily. But when it does, I remember how fortunate I am. I wear digital hearing aids in both ears, provided free of charge by the NHS. Fortunately for me, NHS hearing aids don’t have the same reputation as their glasses – mine are small and silver and I wear them with pride.
If I was the same age that I am now, 33, and if I happened to be Tanzanian instead of British, it’s highly unlikely that I would be wearing hearing aids; I might not even know what hearing aids are. Every day I would miss out on conversations, I would be left out of important decisions, I would miss jokes. If I was poor, which the majority of Tanzanians are, then after the sun sets I would likely be without electricity, which would make communication even harder. By now, and I have been wearing hearing aids for five years, the Tanzanian me would be in a worse position for finding work and I almost certainly would have shrunken into myself somewhat.
The same would apply if I were from anyone of the countries which I am visiting during my current tour with Sound Seekers, meeting our partners on the ground and reviewing our project progress. So far I have visited Zambia and Tanzania. In Zambia, there is only one fully qualified Audiologist for the entire country of 13 million people! To put this in perspective, in the UK, we have around four Audiologists for every 100,000 people. That is why equipping health staff with skills in Audiology is a key part of our efforts. I’m looking forward to seeing these efforts in motion later this month when I visit three individuals (from Malawi, Cameroon and Zambia) whom we are sponsoring to do a one year diploma in Clinical Audiology at the University of Nairobi.