By Emily Bell, Programme Manager at Sound Seekers.
Ever since I joined Sound Seekers in 2012, I thought that the charity could benefit from an injection of glitterati. Hearing loss and deafness in sub-Saharan Africa is not the most fashionable of causes, after all.
So when I discovered that the 2013 Big Brother winner Sam Evans, was not only a young deaf man who wore hearing aids, but also had a whiff of Harry Styles about him, I was hot on his trail.
We brought Sam to London and crowned him our ‘person of the day’, and somehow convinced him to feature in a film about our work in Malawi, to be made on a shoestring by Gingerwink Films.
Sound Seekers has exciting things happening in Malawi, and big plans for the future. Over the next four years, we will sponsor two Malawians to train in London as the country’s first ever Audiologists, and we will build and equip an audiology clinic at Queen’s.
At the end of the project, Malawi will have its first comprehensive, government run audiology service, led by two qualified Malawian Audiologists.
We wanted Sam to see for himself what life is like for deaf people in countries without widely available audiology services. I think all of us wonder how our lives would have turned out if we had been born somewhere different.
In Sam’s case, his experiences in Malawi gave him a more vivid illustration of this than people most ever get. We are hoping this means that he will be a powerful ambassador for Sound Seekers’ work in Malawi and beyond for a long time to come.
The reality is that if Sam had been born in Malawi, with his level of hearing loss, it’s possible that he never would have gone to school, which would have impacted his chances of leading an independent life.
Firstly, his parents might not have realised that he was deaf; they might have just thought he was stupid. Secondly, even if they had realised he was deaf, they might not have known what educational opportunities exist for deaf children.
Sam could have gone to a mainstream school, however with severe hearing loss and no access to hearing aids or speech language therapy, it’s unlikely that he would have succeeded in classes of 60-70 pupils, in classrooms with poor acoustics.
If Sam had not managed to access any schooling, it is unlikely he would ever have learnt either to speak properly or to use sign language. It is not an uncommon fate for deaf people in Africa to reach adulthood with no way of communicating with those around them.
Sam met many deaf Malawians. Some of whom have already benefited from our work in Malawi. One person he’s unlikely to forget is a little boy called Happy.
Happy’s is a story that we love to tell, and that’s not just because of his cool name. Happy has hearing loss and struggled to do well in his mainstream school, remaining in the same class for three years.
Earlier this year, however, Happy was fitted with hearing aids at Queen’s. When he returned to school wearing his hearing aids, some of his classmates removed the hearing aids from his ears and ran home with them.
Our audiology team spoke to his teachers and classmates about how important it is for Happy to wear his hearing aids. He has finally moved up a class and on the day we met him, the expression on his face certainly lived up to his name. There are thousands more Happys across Malawi, and we hope to be able to help many more of them.
‘Hear in Malawi’ will feature Sam’s encounters with Happy and much more. I hope that I have piqued your interest in seeing the film. Hollywood, are you ready?
- Sam Evans is raising money for the Sound Seekers ‘Hear in Malawi’ appeal. We would appreciate your support – please donate via https://www.justgiving.com/Sam-Evans13/ or text EVAN74 £2 / £5 / £10 to 70070. Until 20th January, every pound you give will be matched by the UK Government (via UK Aid), doubling the value of your donation.
- If you are interested in screening ‘Hear in Malawi’ at your local community centre/school/deaf club, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
- To see Sam and Emily being interviewed on breakfast TV in Malawi, visit: http://tinyurl.com/lpruq6j
- For the full version of this blog, which also introduces Malawi’s first two cochlear implant recipients, please visit http://www.sound-seekers.org.uk/news/
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