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Hear India: Helping Children Hear the World

I’ve worked as an audiologist at Phonak for eight years, and while I’ve seen how our technology has improved the lives of many people during that time, I haven’t had the opportunity to go back to my audiology “roots” and see how this technology really helps children in their every day lives.

Through an opportunity with the Hear the World Foundation, I was able to do just that, and set off for a journey to southern India. 

Early Saturday, Feb. 20 I began my travels to the state of Tamil Nadu in Southern India,  for a week of volunteering with the Hear the World Foundation, for Sylvia Wright Trust and the Rangammal school near Thiruannamalai, India.

I met with my colleague and fellow audiologist Crystal Variava (who is based in the Phonak Mumbai office) at Chennai airport early Sunday morning. Even at this time the temperature and humidity were rising. We were met by our driver and representative from the school and then made the 3 hour drive to Thiruannmalai.

On Monday morning we arrived at the school to an official welcome. The children were lined up waiting for us to arrive. We thought it would be a good idea to all pose with our Hear the World symbol, placing our hand behind our ear. 


Anna Crystal and the children doing our best Hear the World pose!

Crystal and I looked around the school at the different classes and met the teachers. There are 30 teachers at the school and 203 pupils wearing hearing aids. Four teachers also specialize in audiology and hearing aid care, in addition to their regular class teaching.

The school children range from ages 4-18, and study English, maths, science, Tamil language and IT (computer skills). They are all achieving scores in their exams that are as good  or better than their hearing peers. The one thing I noticed that every class had in common was how happy the children are. They love being at school and learning.

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After talking to the four specialist teachers it became clear that just being able to manage the general upkeep of the hearing aids (over 400 hearing aids) was a full time job. They also didn’t have has much time as they would like to do the more specialist work, such as hearing tests, impression taking and programming or reprogramming of hearing aids.

We all sat together to decide a plan of action to try and improve this situation. These are some things we did:

  • Used puffers to blow moisture out of the hearing aid tubing 
  • Made our own tubing threaders out of nylon fishing line to make re-tubing easier
  • Substituted rice for drying crystals as an inexpensive alternative for their drying capsules

The rest of the week was split between training the four teachers, assessing them as they performed hearing tests and otoscopy (checks of the ear canal and ear drum), reviewing case studies and checking programming of hearing aids and training the other 30 teachers to be able to do basic hearing aid checks.

As we were doing the tests on each children we demonstrate exactly what was happening with each child’s ear. We saw some with fluid behind their eardrum, others with excess wax and some healthy ear drums too! This hands-on-training was invaluable to the teachers, and  in the end, I was so proud of their new otoscopy skills that I donated my own otoscope as a gift. 

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Even though the week was very busy we had plenty of time to talk to the children. We watched them perform in two dances, and have fun playing and learning with each other. There was lots of laughter and jokes between us all.

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We knew we wouldn’t be able to change the world, but I know that in our short week we made an impact and helped some children hear the world better.

Author Details
Anna is currently the Senior Audiology Manager at Phonak. She has worked in the field of audiology and hearing aids for 25 years, and is passionate about all things audiology.