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Georgia's trip to Malawi

Photo: Georgia travelled to Malawi last October and met four families with a deaf child.

Georgia (15) visited Malawi hoping to reassure other families with a child about to have a cochlear implant operation.

When parents Sam and Kevin attended a local fundraising dinner, they had no idea it would result in a life-changing trip for their daughter.

“We spoke to some doctors who told us they’d been going out to Malawi to train African doctors to do cochlear implant operations on children,” explains Sam.

“Most of the children weren’t born deaf but lost their hearing due to illness. Not being able to hear means they’d struggle to get an education or have a job so having the implants is incredible for them. When we told Georgia, she wanted to go out to visit families with a child about to have the operation to tell them what she had achieved with cochlear implants.”

Georgia was ten months old when she was diagnosed as profoundly deaf. “She completely fooled us. We didn’t know she was deaf at all,” remembers Sam. It was only when Georgia failed a distraction test that Sam and Kevin took her to their local hearing and balance centre where more tests confirmed that she couldn’t hear.

“I was never upset for us but I was absolutely heartbroken for Georgia. We’re a big, noisy family and we love music and parties,” says Sam.

Communication methods

The family took the approach of trying everything to see what worked for them. Georgia had her first cochlear implant when she was two years old and a second at five, and the family also learned sign language.

“It meant we could give Georgia lots of different inputs. For instance, I could say the word cat, draw a picture of a cat, show her a cat and do the sign for cat. She soon started to speak because she’d got all the tools,” Sam says. “She’s always been able to communicate; she’s never been frustrated.”

As her speech developed, Georgia dropped the signing and now just uses it when her processors are off, like for swimming, or in a particularly noisy situation. She also now chooses only to wear her first implant, on her right side. “The left one gives me different sound levels and I can’t hear as clearly with it,” she says. “I prefer just wearing one, although I sometimes struggle with the direction of sound.”

Support at school

Currently doing GCSEs, Georgia has a successful school life. “I have teaching assistants. They repeat what the teacher says for me and tell me, in the simplest way, how to do the work. I generally know what I’m doing but it helps me to feel confident,” she says.

“I have amazing friends who really understand and help me. The canteen can be loud but we always sit on a round table so I can see everybody. I tell them if it’s too noisy and I’m not really understanding what’s going on, then we go and sit in front of the gym as it’s quieter.”

Sam and Georgia travelled to Malawi last October and met four families with a deaf child who was due to have a cochlear implant operation that week. “The youngest was around seven and the oldest about 18. On the first day they were talking through the procedure and the advantages and disadvantages. Then I did a presentation about my life,” says Georgia.

“The children all wanted to see me and have a photo with me. They all wanted to speak to me about my life, about them going deaf and what their challenges were.”

“The idea was to give the parents more confidence in what their child was about to go through,” says Sam. “Georgia told them that she can hear her teachers, chat to her family and communicate with anybody. She loves music, watching TV and being out with friends. She can hear traffic and feels safe. They were absolutely thrilled that somebody who was profoundly deaf could hear as well as that.”

Georgia and Sam packed a lot into their 10-day trip, also having a tour of the hospital and visiting an orphanage, three deaf schools and a mainstream school to see a boy with a cochlear implant. “He was doing amazingly, even in a class of 170!” says Sam.

“The whole trip was an incredible, emotional experience. My favourite part was meeting everyone, and getting to know them,” says Georgia. “The trip made me realise that I’m confident not only in myself, but my surroundings, whether that’s jobs, school or making new friends and I know there are people going through far worse situations. It motivates me to do the best I can.”

Supporting other families

Malawi isn’t the first time Georgia has been able to reassure other families with a deaf child. Sam is Chair of their local deaf children’s society so Georgia often meets families with newly diagnosed deaf children.

“Georgia recently came with me to an event we held for 13 families. The parents were so moved because they could see that she can chat away to adults and is confident. They were really very emotional.”

After her GCSEs this summer, Georgia plans to stay on at school for sixth form, pursue her passion for photography and learn to drive. She also sees more travel in her future. “Travelling is my biggest dream. I love seeing different cultures and people,” she says. “And after Malawi I now want to help people in every way I can. I’m not going to take anything for granted.”