Goats and cotton wool: photo of primary school children in Malawi

Goats and cotton wool – a winning combination!

Goats and cotton wool? It may seem unusual, but these are just two local solutions which are helping children with hearing impairments to receive a primary school education in Malawi.

Goats and cotton wool: photo of child writing on blackboard in MalawiSignal works with local partners, CCAP, in Northern Malawi to identify deaf and hard of hearing children and then to support these children to access primary education. We work with the children themselves, their families, community leaders and teachers to ensure that this education is relevant and that schools embrace learners with special needs.

We also challenge negative attitudes towards deafness and other disabilities. We highlight the rights of all children to an education and their ability to learn if encouraged and supported.

We give people the power to change their own lives, encouraging local solutions to identified problems with accessing education and providing an enjoyable school experience for the children.

This is where the goats and cotton wool come in…

Goats and cotton wool: photo of safe ear cleaningMany of the causes of hearing loss in Malawi are preventable and often treatable. One of the most common is otitis media (middle ear infection and glue ear).

When this childhood condition persists in the UK, it can be treated with antibiotics. In Malawi there is little access to and little funding available within families for medical help, and when left untreated the condition can recur and cause worsening hearing loss.

Moreover, it is painful for the child and can produce an unpleasant smelling discharge. This in turn can lead to the child becoming the victim of bullying and discrimination both at school and in the family.

Our deaf awareness programme offers training to parents, community leaders and teachers on correct ear hygiene and how to safely clean the ears of a child with otitis media – using small amounts of cotton wool and everyday ingredients like salt water. This regular cleaning removes the discharge, improves the child’s hearing and enables the child to enjoy school without being bullied.

Goats and cotton wool: photo of goats roaming in AfricaThe involvement of goats was the idea of one respected village leader.

He had attended one of the training sessions our programme offers, including training on the causes and effects of hearing loss and the rights of every child to an education. He passed a local bye-law stating that any parent deliberately keeping their child at home, whether deaf or with another disability, would pay a fine of a goat – a very substantial part of a family’s income.

In this one village alone, three children were immediately enrolled at school and are doing well!

Thanks to our donors Comic Relief and, in partnership with Sense Scotland, the Scottish Government. Without their support such children would not be able to go to school and communities would not have the opportunities to show such inventiveness in encouraging the children’s attendance.

Goats and cotton wool: photo of primary school children in playground in Malawi


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