Posted by : Posted on : 06-Mar-2020

Looking into the needs of the Solomon Islands deaf community.

Encourage by the outcome of this weeks 3 day Disability Sector Workshop when it ended with a Statement of Commitment to forge new partnerships in support of the rights of those with disabilities, my attention has again focused on the needs of the deaf in the Solomon Islands, including the needs of children and adults who might benefit from being given a hearing aid.

My efforts in recent months in trying to get donor support with gifted hearing aids have not been successful so far.

Today, however, I learned of the Lions Hearing Aid Bank based in Australia and checked out their website, from which I quote:

“According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), over 360 million people globally are affected by a ‘disabling hearing loss’ – meaning every day sounds, like light traffic and general conversational speech, cannot be clearly heard.

Affected groups are not distributed equally. WHO’s research demonstrates that developing countries have the greatest prevalence of hearing impaired people, particularly through rural areas across South East Asia, the Asia Pacific and sub-Saharan Africa.

To help these people our Lions Hearing Clinics, in collaboration with Lions Hearing Foundation, donate thousands of pre-owned hearing aids to areas in need through a joint initiative called the Lions Hearing Aid Bank. The hearing aids are donated to people in need across the world and in particular to developing countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia and Kenya. 

The hearing aids are donated to schools, orphanages and community centres. 

Through this one very practical programme the Lions Hearing Aid Bank is helping many children (and families) access hearing aids that would not have been available otherwise and allowing them to hear in class and gain an education”, our CEO Sandra Bellekom said. 

Hearing loss often results in people becoming isolated and less likely to interact with family and friends causing social divides,” said Ms Bellekom.  “With the support of Lions, our Lions Hearing Clinics and the Lions Hearing Aid Bank program we are helping to address these issues and making a real difference in the lives of thousands of people."

I made a written enquiry on line in the hope of discovering if Lions Hearing Aid Bank could help those with hearing difficulties in the Solomon Islands and I will pass on any information that I might get back.

I understand Lions also assists in developing countries with sign language help and instruction and it would be well worth the Solomon Islands Deaf Association following through with Lions to see what assistance might be forthcoming.

My concern for the deaf led to some general searches I made this morning and I believe it would be worthwhile sharing some of the facts I discovered.   I was not wholly aware of some of the implications of deafness in the Solomons and perhaps others too need to have a better understanding of the local situation relating to the concerns of Solomon Islanders suffering hearing loss.

Here are some of the rather disturbing and concerning issues that I very much hope will be taken into consideration as a follow-up to the promise of commitments that emanated from the Disability Sector Workshop I have mentioned.

Solomon Islands deaf community want/need.

“Equal participation, social participation, self-values, equality, happiness, sign language and communication, employment/ vocational opportunities, to obtain work healthy lifestyles and to be able to support their families.”

“Having access to equal participation is a key priority for the deaf community. When provided with the opportunity to participate equally, this brings about a sense of self value and happiness, as opposed to feelings of loneliness when prevented from participating.”

 “Sign language communication is ranked important with both men and women. Both men and women feel contentment when they get together with the deaf community and are able to communicate in sign language.”

 “Many members of the deaf community are job seekers but have difficulties in securing employment.”

“Providing financial support proves difficult for many in the deaf community, despite the fact that some have acquired a trade at San Isidro (Training Centre for Deaf Adults) and graduated from APTC. “

While the Red Cross Special School educates around 70 deaf children, it is situated in Honiara and only accessible for deaf children that live on the bus route. This results in inaccessible school options for the rest of the deaf children that are situated across the multiple islands of Solomon Islands. The Red Cross school is situated in a disaster-prone area and is subject to flooding, resulting in school closure approximately one week per month. “

“The San Isidro Training Centre provides a four-year curriculum to deaf adults that include half a day of literacy and numeracy (targeted to each individual’s educational level). The other half of the day includes sewing, domestic and gardening skills for women and carpentry and gardening for men. Many of the adults that attend the centre have received no education during their childhood. “

“The location is quite remote and isolated. San Isidro staff has said that after the four year course, most deaf students have difficulty gaining employment due to attitudinal barriers. They also report that they have difficulty returning home to their villages as they have acquired sign language but are unable to use it and end up moving to Honiara to be closer to other deaf people so that they can communicate. “

“The lack of sign language is a significant gap in Solomon Islands with most deaf children and adults relying on home or bush sign. Home/bush sign results in deaf people only being able to communicate with their family and some others in the village at best.”

“ Health is another priority for the deaf. Some feel that while health services are provided to everybody, deaf children and adults may not get the health services they need due to a lack of sign language interpreter access. ‘Health workers have difficulties in interacting with deaf people. Because of that, their health needs might not be properly met or assessed.”

If children have a small hearing loss, they do ok for a while at school but they gradually go deaf, so then they stop school.”

“Deaf girls are believed particularly vulnerable to sexual assault. Common sexual offences are done by people who are known to them. If the victim is deaf, defence lawyers need to question, but don’t have the requisite skills to ask questions in court.”

“Ministries such as the Ministry of Justice or Health require access to sign language that is quite technical. The provision of interpreter access would greatly assist with accessibility.”

“Deaf children and adults need equal opportunity to education and work. They need to be recognised by society. Deaf children have a lot of gifts to contribute. They have a high level of practical intelligence and their interest is very high. They just need opportunity to develop the gifts that they have.”

Finally, it is my understanding that the deaf association in the Solomon Islands was established by just two volunteers in order for deaf people to be able to meet and socialise.   Since the inception of the association others have volunteered to aid the work.

To all, I extend my thanks and appreciation and hope that by following-up the lead with Lions Hearing Bank in Australia some positive outcomes will result.

Yours sincerely

Frank Short

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