An ear specialist with a big smile

IRENE SEME

Having travelled over 23 countries in the world, Khotso Kebise remains a humble gentleman who takes pride of where he comes from – Tsoaing, Motsekuoa, in the Mafeteng district. He was schooled locally, completing his BA Degree in Social Work at the National University of Lesotho. Thereafter, like any other graduate, Kebise was not fortunate enough to find employment immediately after completion of his degree. He resorted to volunteering with Sentebale Foundation doing child status index.

This route he took paved the way for his career, something he could not even imagine when he started out – that volunteerism could actually lead him to greener pastures. As a holder of social work degree, Kebise says his responsibilities included finding the status of orphaned and vulnerable children living with HIV, mental illness or other vulnerabilities. Analyses, he adds, were done using a tool which was developed by his team to assist in determining the needy.

It is during these evaluations that Kebise and the team realised that an enormous number of children had a problem of hearing loss. Kebise says through the Foundation’s leadership, their responsibility was to have these children and young registered persons to receive assistance for them to be able to meet basic needs.

“As we were looking for assistance, the founders of Sentebale, Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, and Prince Seeiso came across Starkey Hearing Foundation and presented the findings concerning those children who had hearing loss,” Kebise explains, adding that when Starkey came on board to work together with Sentebale, he was then appointed by Starkey International Liaison Officer to be the Lesotho Country Coordinator.

“The appointment was a shock to me but I guess not so to my superiors because they pointed out that it was because of my dedication and determination I apply when doing my duty though as a volunteer, that I was appointed to be a Country Coordinator,” Kebise continues narrating the story of his life.

For three years as a volunteer Country coordinator, Kebise’s duty was to coordinate all activities regarding ear and hearing health care from 2013. “While working I realised the technicalities of the ears and hearing and thought to myself that maybe I should study audiology. Unfortunately, I realised that it was a bit far-fetched dream,” he remarks bursting into laughter.

He was later awarded a scholarship from the Starkey Hearing Foundation to study towards Hearing Instrument Specialist Diploma in Zambia. Post his studies Kebise began to be on the move all the time travelling from one country to another doing research on his new speciality. “I was on the field for two years and I travelled over 23 countries, 19 in the African continent and the United State of America, Armenia, India and the United Arab Emirates within those years doing research, new findings and fitting ear drums,” he continues, adding that “I must admit that travelling gave me a lot of exposure in the field of ear and hearing health care.

I have touched over 10 000 ears, looked at and seen over 15 000 ear drums. I have fitted over 5 000 individuals with hearing aids,” he proudly recalls. Kebise admits that although he was involved in this intense field work, at some point it became part of his own healing as he had personal issues he was dealing with and led him to being suicidal. He says his depression status escalated to a point where he was always surrounded by negativity, darkness, pain and sadness.

He continues that “As I travelled and met new faces daily from different nations, I was in a dilemma because I wanted to die and the same time I wanted to be alive for these strangers who needed help with their hearing.”

“At the time when I was about to close the curtain, God sent me someone who came into the room and asked me one question which was, when will it ever be about you, and not other people’?” Then he began to see life in a different light. As a child he wanted to be a medical doctor but could not fulfil his dream because he did not do well in mathematics while at high school. Nonetheless, he was advised by his then mentor that studying towards a degree in Social Work would assist him to soothe his will drive to heal and make people smile.

Asked what is so much into making others smile, he lifts up his head with a broad smile and says “you see you also smile automatically because you see me smiling although you don’t know why,” he keeps up with his smile for a while. “Okay I see but what’s with the smile,” I persist. “While I grew up I have always wished to heal people and see them smile because I have helped them. At the time my thinking was that I can only be able to do so if I am a medical doctor because I wanted to touch someone who is in pain and see that pain disappear.

So when my mentor was assisting to find a suitable course for me, she asked what I want to be and this was my answer so she advised me to study towards social work,” he explains. “You wanted to wear a white doctor’s coat, so here you are wearing it, you are still a doctor,” I jokingly say. He bursts into uncontrollable laughter and says “Yes, maybe I should soothe my childhood dream and begin to address myself as ‘Dr Kebise’ like I used to while I was young.” He recalls also that because he had no idea what social work was about, for a minute he was a bit disappointed in himself that he will not be able to fulfil his lifetime dream only because he was not good in mathematics.

Nevertheless, all hope came back beaming in his heart when his mentor explained what social work is all about. “This is where you touch people’s hearts and emotions. You don’t touch them physically but you will still be able to make them smile and heal emotionally, you will bring them hope,” he says this is how his mentor explained it.

Thereafter, his perspective of healing totally changed, hence he volunteered with an organisation that works with orphans and vulnerable children – Sentebale. Currently what Kebise enjoys about his daily job is that he is able to reconnect individuals with their families and communities through hearing. “I feel that I am giving so much hope to the community and to parents of children who had given up on them because they were told that their children’s hearing is damaged and could not hear again. It heals me, it’s self-healing to see yourself giving someone hope and their faces begin to beam with peace and positivity,” he says.

In an orotund tone, Kebise adds that “You never have to work a day if you do something that you don’t like, what I do is more than just a job that helps me to earn a living, to me it’s about bringing hope to those who have lost it, it’s about sharing positivity and smile.” Although, he likes putting a smile on other people’s faces, Kebise does admit that it is not always that he delivers good news to his clients. He remembers that there was a day when he had to deliver sad news to his client.

His face changes, looks sad and uneasy and in a wheezy tone says “it was a terrible day,” he paused and sighed. “It was a middle aged lady who had young children to bring up. After looking at her history and running some tests, I found out that her hearing was almost at zero – her condition was tinnitus,” he sighs again.

Kebise asserts his wish that more young people could join the ear and hearing health profession as there are only a few specialists in the country. In his lifetime Kebise says his father was always a respectable man whom everyone in the neighbourhood looked up to, both adults and the young. In his childhood, Kebise and his peers used to make wire cars with stolen barbed wire from people’s plots. He says they would wait for dawn and each would go individually to cut their share.

“We would literally target any yard with a new wire so that we could get it, and we’d get copper wire from houses that were being installed electric appliances,” he narrates. When the villagers became aware that the wires were stolen by the village boys the community came together to report them to the chief. “My father was in the forefront of the community and while going there he was pulling me by the hand, I came dragging behind him. I was so terrified because I knew he was going to sjambok me,” Kebise remembers with laughter.

On arrival at the chief’s court, Kebise says their parents agreed on corporal punishment to beat all the children exchanging them on and on like that. He softly says, “Since that day we never ever stolen wires again, we would rather redo our cars to make a different model.” Kebise further stipulates that in his opinion, had they not been punished and disciplined for their misbehaviour, they might have turned out to be real criminals.

“Nowadays the law has evolved, children have rights not to be beaten and so on and so forth. I personally think that is a big step into a wrong direction because children need to be disciplined. When the society was strong against children misbehaviour, we turn to have well behaving children,” he continues, adding that the collapse of the society in reining the children together is what might have led to having more young people joining criminal gangs. Despite the beatings and being a naughty child, Kebise says he was known as a respectful child who’d always stand and take time to greet the elders.

“I still do that even to date, I enjoy seeing people smile when I greet them,” he concludes with a big smile. And, wait a minute, he is probably thinking of his next client as I am swiftly dismissed and escorted to the door…!

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