Basic ear health to improve education outcomes

Marte Klakken Sivertsen doing otoscopy on a learner at Chibvumbe Primary School when on outreach with MACOHA - Photo: Anja Hegg/HLF
Marte Klakken Sivertsen doing otoscopy on a learner at Chibvumbe Primary School when on outreach with MACOHA. Photo: Anja Hegg/HLF

There are good opportunities for Norwegians who wish to experience and work in Malawi and for Malawians who wish to experience and work in Norway. Guro Mollan and Marte Klakken Sivertsen have since February this year been working with children with hearing impairments at a Teacher Training College for Special Needs Education in Limbe.

Fredskorpset, the Norwegian volunteer service, has several exchange projects where young and skilled Norwegians and Malawians learn from and contribute to their host country. One of the projects, established in 2012, is based on a partnership between The Norwegian Association of the Hard of Hearing (HLF) and the Montfort Special Needs Education College. Each year Montfort College sends two Malawian specialist teachers to work and live at Briskeby Upper Secondary School for hearing impaired students in Norway. In return, HLF sends two Norwegian audiologists to Malawi, living and working at Montfort College.

Guro and Marte are both newly trained audiologists who graduated from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in June 2016. At Montfort College their job is to assist in classes related to their expertise, provide teacher training and run an audiology clinic which is based on the Montfort campus. The main goal of the exchange program is to spread knowledge about audiology and perform hearing screenings. Guro and Marte explain that when the project was launched, there was a dire shortage of both audiologists and ear, nose and throat doctors in Malawi. Today the number of specialists has increased, although there is still a great need for more.

A hearing impairment that is not diagnosed and met with necessary aid, will often affect a child’s ability to attend education and perform well in school. Lack of knowledge related to special needs education has grave impact on the education system in Malawi. Guro and Marte are therefore conducting an outreach programme in collaboration with Malawi Council for the Handicapped, funded by Norwegian Association of Disabled. For this programme, they visit mainstream schools in the surrounding district to identify learners with a hearing impairment and to assist them with other ear related problems. Furthermore, they have awareness meetings with teachers, parents and other adults in the surrounding villages to make them more aware of hearing and ear related issues.

One of the biggest challenges so far has been lack of proper equipment and access to electricity on Montfort campus. The clinic lacks essential audiology equipment and frequent power cuts limit the regular use of the equipment. This puts some restrains to their work, but Guro and Marte experience that they manage to provide adequate help and assistance to their patients even with limited resources. In cases that need more resources than Montfort can provide, patients can be referred to Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre.

After eight months at Montfort, Guro and Marte have both attained new personal and professional skills, and they find their work at Montfort very rewarding. Working in a context with little knowledge and awareness about basic ear health and limited resources has taught them how to make use of what they have at hand and to be creative in their work. They trust that these experiences will benefit them in their future career as audiologists.

Are you interested in learning more about the exchange programme with Montfort or FK Norway’s other exchange opportunities? Click here.