I dropped out of medical school, lost first banking job opportunity to hearing challenge —Olayinka Balogun
Omotunde Olayinka Balogun, deputy director with the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) and past President of the Rotary Club of Abuja Metro, is the founder of Vintage Hearing Foundation (VHF). In this interview with HAKEEM GBADAMOSI, she speaks on life as a professional with hearing challenge, her journey to the establishment of Vintage Hearing Foundation and advocacy for hearing solutions.
You are an advocate known for her passion on issues relating to hearing solutions. Does it have anything to do with a personal experiance?
I am happy to share my story with everyone. Growing up was a bit challenging, I missed when called and others around had to inform me or nudge me. My mum had difficulty communicating with me. People around me often had to repeat themselves.
This went on until my big brother got admitted to medical school and informed my mum of the need to check my hearing. However, I could not bring myself to take a hearing test until much later. It was an emotional struggle. At school, I always sat in front; otherwise, I would not hear. I did not pass my school leaving certificate exam at the first sitting but after reading on my own, I had distinction. My hearing became a real challenge when I entered the School of Dentistry in Ibadan. In the pre-dentistry school, we had a lot of classes with other students studying medical sciences. We used large halls, but unlike my prelims days, my programme was jam-packed, and the halls were usually full by the time medical students arrived. I couldn’t get my notes, I wasn’t even hearing the lectures. It was a very troubled time and I eventually dropped out of medical school and I changed to my next best subject, Economics, which fortunately had a smaller class.
Did this challenge affect you professionally?
I once applied to United Bank for Africa after graduating from school. I did the test and passed very well. At the interview, trouble started, the bank had a centralized air conditioning unit that made a humming noise. When I was invited to face the panel, the seat was far in front of the table. I moved the seat closer to the table. The panelists were surprised. Despite that, I couldn’t hear them and needless to say, I failed the interview. There and then, I made up my mind to always inform any panel I faced of my challenge. At my next interview, which led to my job at the Bureau of Public Enterprises, I came out tops in the examination and interview.
How do you cope with your work Life?
Although along the line, I got my hearing aid, I wasn’t wearing it. I worked in the bank as a teller. One day, my sister-in-law was at the bank and a customer was talking to me and I didn’t hear. She reported me at home. As an Assistant Manager at the bank, I got talking with my Deputy General Manager who was not aware of my hearing impairment. She was surprised about my intelligent contributions because hitherto, she had thought I was slow. Gradually, I started wearing my hearing aids.
How is day-to-day life?
Life can be a bit tricky; I can’t join in conversations all the time. Some see me as not being friendly, some found me snobbish and I found large meetings challenging but I now use a Roger. When I clocked 50, it dawned on me that I was truly favored. Despite my challenge, I had come a long way as a Deputy Director, Head of a unit in a Federal Government establishment. I should be grateful rather than complain about my disability. I looked inwards and decided to channel my energy toward helping others who have hearing disabilities but no funds to help themselves. I found my calling and Vintage Hearing Foundation was born.
I started by volunteering during Starkey Foundation’s hearing missions. Now I work with the Hearing Rotary Action Group to distribute hearing aids in Lagos, Abuja, and now Ondo. We hope to grow to distribute hearing aids all over the country but our activities are hampered by finance. I am planning to work with the government and organisations to make it easier for the hard of hearing to hear in public places—airports, on airplanes, buses, trains, and I also wish to make a lot of advocacies as a lack of knowledge about this hidden impairment makes life a lot more difficult.
But the hearing aid seems to be expensive. How do you source for fund?
It was a family friend who later became chairman of my NGO who gave me money for my first hearing aid. Hearing aids are expensive. In the future, I hope to source for Rotary International grants for the manufacture of hearing molds in Nigeria as it is a great challenge to us.
What is your advice to people in similar situation?
In this journey, I wish to thank Prof Dele Owolawi, my doctor who has walked all these stages with me. Let people know if you are impaired. I wasted a lot of time and opportunities because I didn’t disclose my impairment on time. Talk to those who would understand, please speak out. For others, do understand this hidden disability and try to help as much as possible. Most people need to overcome their emotions which can be difficult.
READ ALSO FROM NIGERIAN TRIBUNE