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First Person: How the London-Based Charity Sound Seekers is Evolving as It Enters Its 55th Year

Bell, Emily MSc

doi: 10.1097/01.HJ.0000438483.64807.7f

Ms. Bell is program manager for Sound Seekers. She previously worked for Médecins Sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders, and Merlin, an international health charity, in Chad, Myanmar, Liberia, Haiti, and Zambia.



Sound Seekers has gone through many changes over the past two years. My appointment as program manager was the first of its kind for the small London-based charity, which was founded in 1959 and known as the Commonwealth Society for the Deaf until 1994. It was a brave decision by our board to take on a new staff member in a difficult economic climate for all charities, and I have done my best to justify the investment.

When I joined in January 2012, I was the fourth permanent staff member on the London team, working alongside a chief executive, fundraising manager, and company secretary. We now have new faces and new positions: Lucy Carter as chief executive, and Stuart Riddick as fundraising assistant and office manager. We also have an energetic intern, Eddy Day-Clarke, who spends up to three days per week with us.

Figure. E

Figure. E

In our new offices at the University College London Ear Institute, an academic research institution that aims to be a global leader in understanding hearing and fighting deafness, we meet new people every day who are keen to learn about what we do and offer their expertise to help us.

As the first person to work for the organization with a dedicated mission to supervise our overseas projects, my first priority was to visit as many of these projects as possible to understand if the way we were describing them in London matched what was actually happening on the ground.

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During my first 17 months, I visited Sound Seekers-supported activities in The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi, Lesotho, and Cameroon. I found out that some projects weren't running exactly as anticipated, and I've been working with the board and the London headquarters team to get our activities back on track.



Much of my role is now focused on trying to ensure that our projects are clearly defined, realistic, and, most importantly, considered desirable and relevant to our partners on the ground and the populations they serve. Our activities in the field are carried out entirely by implementing partners, usually government health workers, and we want to make sure they are providing useful services that can make a difference in people's lives.

We partner with major hospitals in our seven project countries to establish audiology services. That means we support hospital staff to be trained in basic audiology and provide them with the kit they need to provide services for people with hearing loss, including fitting hearing aids. The range of what we can deliver depends on our collaborating partners and the budget available for the specific country.

We organize volunteer placements for audiologists from the United Kingdom and elsewhere to go and support the African staff running these services, ensuring that their skills are maintained and upgraded. This is a cross-country run and not a sprint, but we are convinced that by building solid and mutually respectful relationships with health service providers in our countries of operation, in time we can support them to establish quality and sustainable audiology services.

In most poor countries, audiology comes far down a long list of health priorities, and we believe we have a role to play in equipping health workers to provide these services, which wouldn't otherwise exist.

One of my major lessons has been that it is impossible for us to implement projects from afar without partners who are enthusiastic about the work we want to undertake with them. As a result, we have made some tough decisions this year and streamlined our list of partners.



We consider ourselves lucky now to be collaborating with, among others, ENTs Dr. Wakisa Mulwafu and Dr. Evaristus Acha in Malawi and Cameroon, respectively; audiologist Alfred Mwamba in Zambia; and the staff and students at St. Joseph's School for the Hearing Impaired in Makeni, Sierra Leone. Building these relationships, face-to-face when we can afford it and by phone and email when we can't, will be key to helping people with hearing loss in our project countries.

We are always keen to hear from individuals and groups who want to know more about our work or support us in any way. We are particularly eager to hear from fully qualified audiologists who may be interested in volunteering in one of our projects, usually for a minimum of two weeks. Please email me at if you would like to participate.

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Audiology Without Borders

Our Audiology Without Borders column, featured each month in the HJ eNewsletter, highlights humanitarian hearing healthcare programs.

The column is edited by active humanitarians Jackie Clark, PhD, and King Chung, PhD. Dr. Clark is a clinical associate professor at the University of Texas at Dallas and a research scholar at University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg; and Dr. Chung is an associate professor of audiology at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.

Let us know about your humanitarian program! Send the details to—manuscripts should be about 1,000 words, and photographs are also welcome (300 dpi in jpg, tif, or gif format).

Read past Audiology Without Borders columns in a special collection at

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