Opening doors: the priceless Gift of Hearing
Share this article:
Cape Town - Tanatswa Bomba welcomes me with a big hug and a shy smile before bringing her small hand, palm facing out, to her temple, moving it outward with a kind of sideways motion. She is saying hello in sign language, her teacher Nomthandazo Dila tells me before I replicate the motion.
I am at the Mary Kihn School for Partially Hearing Children in Observatory, Cape Town. Tanatswa and her six classmates have just had their lunch. “Tanatswa is a very happy child that likes to socialise. She is also very eager and willing to try new things,” says Dila. “She is very sensitive to people’s feelings and is the first to apologise if she does something wrong,” says the Grade R teacher.
Tatenda Maredza explains that soon after her daughter Tanatswa was born in Zimbabwe, she had a severe case of jaundice. “She got really sick and her lungs collapsed. I had to give her mouth-to-mouth (resuscitation) on the way to the hospital,” Maredza recalls.
Tanatswa suffered from cerebral palsy, one of the causes of chronic childhood disability. This damaged the left side of her brain, which controls voluntary muscle movements and balance, and resulted in her losing some of her motor skills.
“It was heartbreaking. I was told her development would be slow. She wasn’t speaking and I couldn’t tell if she was hearing anything,” says Maredza
About two years ago, Tanatswa started wearing a bilateral hearing-aid after being diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.
“The hearing-aid helps in amplifying sounds, such as a dog barking and footsteps from behind. Without it she can’t tell if there is danger or if I am calling her. With it she is more aware of sounds and the environment around her,” says Maredza.
Tanatswa is among the first of 200 hearing impaired children who have or will be given the gift of hearing through a collaboration between the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, the Children’s Hospital Trust, Woolworths and MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet. About 3 000 children will also be screened to detect and treat auditory problems early, preventing delays in their development.
All of this is being made possible by customers who swipe their MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet cards at Woolworths stores until December 24. A percentage of each purchase will go towards helping more children like Tanatswa, who this month received a new hearing-aid from the partnership.
Western Cape Minister of Health Theuns Botha says: “The pilot is an example of what we can achieve in partnership. I will keep a keen eye on the progress with the screenings, and especially the outcomes. The more screenings we are able to do now, the better the speech and hearing outcomes in the years to come. It is crucial that children with hearing loss are identified as early as possible.
At the Carel du Toit Centre in Tygerberg, we met two more children, Ruben Botha and Daniel Arnott, who have benefited from the Gift of Hearing initiative.
The centre uses auditory-verbal therapy, which is designed to teach a child to use the hearing provided by a hearing-aid or a cochlear implant for understanding speech and learning to talk. The child is then taught to develop hearing as an active sense so that listening becomes automatic, enabling him or her to function as a normal-hearing child.
Five-year-old Ruben started wearing a hearing-aid after his parents became concerned that his language development was slow. He suffers from bilateral sensorineural hearing loss (moderate to severe hearing loss) and recently had a cochlear implant – a surgically implanted electronic device that provides a sense of sound.
His Grade R teacher, Cara Conradie, says the procedure amplified his hearing and has resulted in an improvement of his speech. “He is doing quite well and talking more and more,” says Conradie. “He is a lovely bubbly boy with a strong personality, as well as very inquisitive.”
Daniel’s teacher, Andrenette van der Merwe, says the six-year-old has become more alert and a “big talker, since having the same cochlear procedure earlier this month.
Tanatswa, Ruben and Daniel, along with three other hearing impaired Cape Town children – Shakoor Hendricks, Iviwe Nakani and Anuk Lombaard – were also given the chance to be part of the Woolworths Christmas marketing campaign. Their images can be seen in stores and in the company’s festive season catalogues.