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Report by Australian Audiometrist Catherine Bruce, 20/11/06.

The grand old city of Cartagena in Colombia is noisy. It starts at sunrise with the call of the first barrow boy selling cheese empanadas and slowly builds to a cacophony of traffic, church bells, street vendors, beeping taxis until it gradually subsides with the final tourist horse and buggy trip of the night. The clip-clopping on the cobblestones echoing through the narrow streets.

Just outside the old city at the Juan Salvador Gaviotta Escuela the students are unaware of the noise. They are hearing impaired and none of them wears hearing aids. They communicate with signing. This is a poor area but I was surprised to find that most of the children had never had a hearing evaluation.

Through Cartagenitos, I had arranged to conduct some hearing tests in the school. The conditions were basic, the children a little apprehensive and the staff were very grateful and helpful despite my poor Spanish. The first thing I learned was to sign "Buenos Dias". From there on it was relatively easy and we managed to have a lot of fun.

The test results revealed that many of the children will probably benefit from amplification and there are a number who are candidates for cochlear implants.

Oticon Australia kindly provided me with 13 brand new hearing aids for this project. I was also able to recruit the assistance of two local Audiologists Claudia Arevalo and Liliana Sossa who visited the school with me and fortunately are very familiar with Oticon products. They have offered to take on the task of fitting the Oticon aids at their clinic.

We don't have enough hearing aids to fit all the children at this stage and then there is the task of lobbying the Colombian Dept of Health for the cochlear implant assessments. But this is an on-going project and a couple of Audiologists have already expressed interest in continuing the testing of the students at this school.

There are other schools for the deaf in Cartagena. One is sponsored by Rotary in the USA with hearing aids provided, FM Systems and Speech Therapists. The others are just like Juan Salvador Gaviotta Escuela, where, with the help of James Battersby at Oticon, some of the children will be able to hear the sounds of their city.