Real Lives

Real Lives

 

Real Lives

Help to Hear: A First for Children in Western Jamaica

KINGSTON, 26 August 2014 – Serena Brooks, age 12, has mixed feelings about the summer coming to a close. She is leaving her beloved Townhead primary school, nestled in the quiet rural community of Truro in western Jamaica, to attend high school in a bustling area.

 

Serena speaks fondly of her Grade 6 memories at Townhead. “I liked going to school,” she says, her face aglow.  “I liked my teacher, he gave a lot of jokes and he was nice to us. And because of my friends, too,” she adds. Serena was doing fairly well in school, but no one realized why she paid extra attention in class.

“I cannot hear very well,” she admits, looking down at her hands. “I had to ask the teacher to repeat what he is saying. That made me feel unhappy.”

The school’s guidance counsellor, Ms. Dixon, and Serena’s Grade 6 teacher, Mr. Bukass, both noticed that Serena would turn or lean in closely to listen as they spoke. But it took special visitors to the school to uncover the problem she had not complained about.

Several months before Serena sat the major transition exam for high school, a team of audiologists carried out the first-ever comprehensive screening for the entire Townhead student population of roughly 400 children.

This rarely happens in rural schools. With financial support from the Western Union Foundation via UNICEF, the Combined Disabilities Association carried out screenings, treatment and referrals for over 2,000 children to identify hearing, visual and learning deficits at Townhead and six other schools in Western Jamaica.

Often these challenges go undetected and untreated, silently affecting children’s self-esteem, confidence and abilities to learn optimally – not just at the primary level, but when they move on to secondary education. Early, preventive action is critical.

Unknown to the school administrators and their parents, some 20 percent of the students at Townhead had foreign objects buried in their ears, including pieces of rubber and crayon. Many others had heavy wax build-up.

The audiologists referred 15 children to a hearing specialist and recommended that six students undergo a comprehensive hearing assessment to evaluate and treat hearing difficulties. Serena was one of them.

Mr. Bakass says Serena’s work improved after the initial treatment at the school. Another student of his also changed noticeably. “She used to speak very, very loudly,” he said. Disturbed, he would urge her to keep her voice down. “She was the form captain and I’d always tell her to set a better example. I didn’t realize until the screening why she was always so loud.”

Other teachers – and many parents – have learned how to better detect signs and symptoms of a range of visual, hearing and learning challenges. “It made us all more aware,” said Ms. Dixon. “The audiologists addressed the PTA body to give information and tips, and spoke with some parents and teachers one-on-one to explain what they need to do. This was very useful.”

 

Families like Serena’s, however, need continued support to help ensure follow-up treatment. Many don’t have the resources to pay for specialist visits in town centres located far from their homes, or for the equipment or medication required. Serena’s initial treatment was an important first step, and puts her in a better position to learn in high school, but her path to perfect hearing isn’t over yet.

 

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