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Case Study - Penny Hill

 

Penny Hill, a Clinical Scientist in Audiology, has been working at the Trust for five years. Her daily duties include helping people with their hearing problems and she sees everyone from newborn babies through to older people. Penny, who is based at the MRI, said: "Lots of people suffer from hearing problems, but it is very much a hidden condition."

 

Penny’s volunteering experiences include one lecturing trip to Kenya this year, and two trips to Nepal in 2007 and 2009 where on each occasion she devoted three weeks of her annual leave to helping those who would ordinarily never receive treatment. She worked closely with ENT consultants’, audiologists, GPs, nurses and surgeons. 

 

 

 

Although Penny’s commute to work in Manchester is relatively short, her last trip to Nepal was somewhat more complicated as her journey involved a flight to Kathmandu, an internal flight on a 12 seater plane, a journey over land by truck which took them to a helicopter for a 40 minute flight to Bajura. It was the first helicopter to land in the region for 20 years and an area in which they could safely land had to be built.

 

 

Because there is no electricity in Nepal, when a humanitarian mission is announced, it is broadcast on the police radio frequency.  Penny said: "The busiest time of the camp is about midway through our time there because people often wait until they have confirmation that help has arrived before they start to walk to the camp. People will walk for up to four days to come and get treatment."

 

Over the day day camp 1,000 people come through out-patients where it is decided what treatment they will need. This may be an ear operation, treatment with antibiotics, the fitting of hearing aids or having their ears de-waxed, or in some cases, removing small stones from their ears! If Penny is having a particularly busy day at the Trust, most people would be surprised if she had the time to carry out 20 hearing tests. Consequently, colleagues were amazed when she told them that one day in Nepal she conducted 52 hearing tests. 

 

There are obviously several differences between Penny’s work in Nepal and at the Trust. She said: "The problem is that some conditions that would not be a problem in the UK are often much more serious and maybe life threatening because they are left untreated until they are so far down the line. Also Nepal is the one of the few countries left in the world where the caste system is still very much in evidence. The people cannot believe that everyone regardless of what gender they are, how poor they are or what job they do, they still get the same treatment so that is quite a big difference. I have photos of people where their faces are split in half with their smiles because they can hear again." 

 

Penny added: “You need a great deal of experience because the problems you see are complicated by the fact that they haven’t got help earlier. Therefore you are facing scenarios that you would never see in the UK. Every problem is ten times worse. Volunteers aren't taken if they want a training experience as only people who have a lot of experience are needed. 

 

Penny was attracted to Nepal in particular because she was impressed by the organisation who arranges the camps. The International Nepal Fellowship (INF) was established in 1952 and is Nepal’s longest-serving International non-government organisation. INF helps people affected by TB, leprosy, disability, HIV / AIDS and drug abuse, facilitates development among poor communities, runs medical camps and provides medical training. It also runs many other medical camps in some of the most remote parts of Nepal, including general surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, plastics and dental work. 

 

Although humanitarian missions can be expensive, very tiring due to the sheer amount of work and long days, and the living and working conditions can be challenging, Penny believes that the rewards more than compensate because although it is a cliché, the benefits to those who are helped are truly life-changing so much so that she is returning to Nepal with INF for another ear camp in May 2012.