Children with a hearing loss in South Africa have greater opportunities to learn to listen and speak with increased access to Auditory Verbal therapy following the qualification of two new therapists.

Jenni Bester and Barbara Kellett battled against the odds of funding challenges, access to mentoring as well as delays and cancellations due to Covid-19 to become the first LSLS CERT AVTS (Listening and Spoken Language Specialist, Certified Auditory Verbal Therapists) to qualify in South Africa.

Celebrating their qualification Jenni and Barbara said: “This is really the beginning of South Africa moving forward in this area. It has taken a long while to fund but we are delighted to be the first to qualify in the country. We have a few colleagues coming up for certification which will bring the total to five new AVTs in South Africa.  As a core group, our vision to support both professionals and families can then begin to gather new momentum.”

Although they both work at the same early intervention Centre (CHAT) - affiliated to the Carel du Toit Centre, in Cape Town, South Africa they are employed by separate institutions. Jenni works for the Carel du Toit Centre and Barbara for the Tygerberg Hospital University of Stellenbosch Cochlear Implant Unit

Barbara qualified as a dual Speech-Language Therapist and Audiologist, while Jenni qualified as a Speech-Language Therapist in Cape Town and completed initial training in AVT with Warren Estabrooks in 2010.  This 12-month training ignited the flame of passion for Auditory Verbal therapy and their desire to expand training and access in South Africa. The challenge at the time was access to funds to support training and mentoring towards certification. They explained: “Through our cochlear implant group in South Africa and Warren Estabrooks we met Louise Ashton (Cert AVT) who encouraged us to pursue the AVUK training course.”

Louise who mentored the South African cohort said: “I am delighted about Jenni and Barbara’s phenomenal achievement. Both professionals are not only excellent therapists but truly passionate about increasing accessibility for all children in South Africa.  It is such an achievement to be the first professionals to certify as AVT’s not only in South Africa, but the African continent. I am excited for a new era in South Africa’s deaf education with Jenni and Barbara as front runners of significant change.”

“Southern ENT (Cochlear’s distributors in South Africa) supported four professionals in 2017 through four partially funded bursaries to complete AVUK’s Advanced Course.  Jenni and Barbara represent  South Africa at First Voice and are true ambassadors for the country and the families they serve.” 

Jenni and Barbara said: “Training with AVUK was hard work but so rewarding. The weekly group meetings and podcasts really gave us a good grounding in theoretical aspects of AV with great practical and functional application. Having access to mentors was an exceptional experience that followed up on the coursework in practical ways. We both loved the ethos of using language to make and keep friends for the children we worked with.”

The two remaining professionals who started their journey alongside Barbara and Jenni hope to sit the exam at the end of 2021. There are currently 62 professionals from 16 different countries on AVUK’s Foundation and Advanced courses