Millions of people in South Africa suffer from disabling hearing loss, with children often struggling in silence. This issue is elevated in vulnerable communities where physical and mental healthcare services are widely unavailable.

When Lipreading Becomes Normal

Buhle has had severe hearing problems all her life, but she didn’t even realise it.

Born in Mbekweni, a community between Paarl and Wellington, Buhle lived with her mother until she passed away when she was in Grade 2.

With no one else to take care of her, she had to live with her grandmother who, unaware of Buhle’s condition, initially thought she was being “cheeky” when she did not respond to being called.

Buhle also thought her condition was normal. She would always walk close to her friends and resorted to lip-reading in order to understand them.

A Chance to Hear

The provision of community-based hearing care is essential to curb the lack of access to healthcare in vulnerable communities.

Neziswa Fololo is a screener for the hearX Foundation’s 3E project (Ears & Eyes for Education). The 3E project grants access to hearing healthcare to those in urgent need, offering free screening tests at many schools in the area. Using innovative digital solutions that are easy to apply, the programme ensures scalability and accessibility for everyone.

After one of hearX Foundation’s screening tests at her school, Buhle was referred to the Audiologist at Paarl Provincial Hospital where a profound hearing impairment was diagnosed. This was a life-changing moment for Buhle.

She has experienced a remarkable difference in her hearing and quality of life since receiving her hearing aids.

My hearing was bad. For a long time, I could hardly hear anything. I can’t even express how I feel, I am lost for words. There is a lot of change. I can hear the teacher talk and that makes a huge difference,” says Buhle happily.

Improving Lives Through The Gift of Hearing

Neziswa, who has been involved with the 3E project since its inception in July 2019, performs screenings at schools and secures audiologist appointments, making sure patients remember to attend.

She is present at the fitting of each patient’s hearing aid and provides help if problems with these devices arise. She regularly checks in with patients.

As an experienced screener, Neziswa screens up to 30 older kids and 15 younger kids per day.

When you help someone, it’s a special feeling. It’s always a great feeling when you improve someone’s life,” says Neziswa.

According to Nicol Tuscott, project manager of the hearX Foundation 3E project, they screened nearly 1585 children in Mbekweni in the first six months of the pilot project in 2019.

At the primary schools we also asked to screen high risk kids, because there has never been a service like this. Look at Buhle for example, she was much older when someone picked it up and she has a profound hearing problem,” says Nicol.

To this day, nobody knows whether Buhle was born with a hearing problem or whether it developed over the years. But these days, she hardly ever removes her ‘miracle’ device, except before going to bed to get ready for another full day at school.

Read more about the hearX 3E project and more stories of hope here.

* Buhle is a pseudonym.

Photographs and original words by Marzahn Botha.