Wanita Hunter owns an audiology company called Kiwi Hearing, but she is expanding her reach a lot further than kiwis.

Working as an audiologist for Kiwi Hearing in Waikanae, Wanita has flown the nest all the way to Kiribati to provide hearing to children on an island where hearing support is barely existent.

With a population just over 110,000 Kiribati is made up of 32 atolls, ring-shaped coral reefs encircling a lagoon, and many islands.

More than half the population lives on Tarawa atoll and while it may look like a beautiful place with coral reefs and clear blue water, the lagoon is used for everything.

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It is their bathroom, their kitchen, their swimming hole and is deadly polluted.

This picturesque lagoon in Tarawa, Kiribati is polluted.
This picturesque lagoon in Tarawa, Kiribati is polluted.

"In Tarawa the lagoon is polluted so people get ear infections, their ear drums burst, and then they put their head under water full of bacteria again, and basically damage their ears for good," Wanita said.

"It's really sad because all the hearing loss is preventable or manageable but they just end up damaged because there is no one there to do the work educating them or getting onto the ear infections earlier."

With no audiologists in the country, ear health is hard.

Attending an audiology conference in New Zealand Wanita heard about a project that was providing hearing support in the Kiribati islands which needed more volunteers.

Sending a team of people from New Zealand and Australia three times per year, Wanita said yes to the request for help.

Heading over in October last year Wanita spent a week on Tarawa doing hearing tests and fitting hearing aids.

Wanita Hunter treating a student in Kiribati.
Wanita Hunter treating a student in Kiribati.

"They have nurses over there that have been trained up over the last seven years since the project has been operating.

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"Over the last seven years improvements have been made as the local nurses have been trained up to do some screening and cleaning out the ears."

Travelling over with three audiologists, a nurse, and working with a number of local nurses, the group saw hundreds of children every day.

"People came from all over the island and waited for hours and hours to see us."

"It made you appreciate the small things such as drinking water out of a tap or opening your mouth in a shower," Wanita said after volunteering for the first time in a third world country.

"You were working long days and then going home and doing all the paper work on the side.

"It was pretty intense."

But it was very rewarding work.

The project is funded by Hear the World and has made a noticeable difference in the seven years it has been in Kiribati.

The project also provided an opportunity for Wanita to up skill and learn new things herself.

"The rate of hearing loss over there is huge if you compare them to the rates here in New Zealand so there is quite a large signing community."

Being immersed in a culture where signing was more predominant Wanita was able to practice her sign language.

"It's very basic over there so you had to think on your feet about how you could solve problems.

"It was great learning to work outside the box.

"It might not have been best practice as such, but you had to make do and do the best you could in the situation.

"There were a lot of not ideal situations but you had to just work out the best way to deal with it."

Owning Kiwi Hearing, it's hard for Wanita to 'up and leave' for 10 days at a time, but she is continuing to help out behind the scenes updating the projects' database, helping modernise it by putting transferring paper records online.

"I would love to do it again and perhaps go back once a year or so but we'll have to see how it goes."