Written by Jo Milne


Jo Milne: A diary of firsts and lasts

Since the world watched her hear for the first time, Jo Milne has been on a journey into sound, all the while knowing her world is getting darker by the day. This week, you can see her on the telly, fulfilling a lifelong dream.

Jo’s trip to Bangladesh for a BBC documentary fulfilled her lifelong dream to help deaf children hear for the first time.

Jo’s trip to Bangladesh for a BBC documentary fulfilled her lifelong dream to help deaf children hear for the first time.

This last week has proved to me that dreams can and do become reality.

The Gift of Hearing to be broadcast tonight (Friday) tells the story of me fulfilling a lifelong dream I shared with a special school friend, Amina Khan: to provide hearing aids to hundreds of underprivileged children in Bangladesh.

Sometimes as a nation we have a terrible habit of complaining about our valued NHS – but just imagine being born deaf in a country where accessing hearing aids or even a deaf community is virtually impossible, unless you are fortunate enough to come into the world with wealthy parents.

Made by BBC’s North East current affairs team and narrated by BBC 6Music broadcaster Lauren Laverne, The Gift Of Hearing follows my incredible journey in Bangladesh, where five percent of the children are profoundly deaf.

Working with The Hearing Fund UK and the Starkey Foundation, it was an incredibly emotional and massively rewarding experience for me to see, first-hand, hundreds of children being given the chance to hear for the first time.

My heart would leap to my throat as I was reminded how it was for me.

When that feeling of electricity pulsed through me. There was a tingling inside, a ringing in my ears, my arms, my legs, like no sensation I’ve ever felt before.

inquisitive child with a hearing aid
Syllables bounced off the walls, the ceiling, the doors, ringing out around the room, in my ears, and rattling round my brain. I would desperately try to keep up, to filter every new sound that pirouetted out of someone’s mouth to hit my ears, exploding like a firework; every nerve alive with this new sensation.

For some in this makeshift camp in Dhaka, it’s all too much. The emotions fizzing out like a can of soda, tears splashing down faces, as they try to take it all in – me included, as my tear-stained face is an instant giveaway that I recognise life has changed beyond recognition for hundreds of children who are deaf like me.

The tiny signs everyone takes for granted are now colouring in their worlds, bringing it to life, and the viewers of the documentary will get the chance to see this for themselves.

“What’s that noise?” a child would ask, as a ‘clink clink’ sound passes by. Over and over, on and on we go. Five hundred and seventeen children were given hearing aids, the staff and volunteers unable to wipe their broad smiles from their faces.

smiling child with a hearing aid
Their parents looked almost unable to comprehend; I saw warm glances between a mother and child.

And then I notice something else.

It’s like an ongoing puzzle. From moment to moment, the children’s unassuming brains working overtime on how noise represents ‘that’ sound. Doors instantly open, isolation ends and these deaf children are given hope and a chance to be proud of their deafness: to be whoever they want to be.

The children stare wide stares – eyes full of delight and fascinated by the golden ticket world they’ve just heard for the first time. It’s a must watch.

The Gift of Hearing will be shown on BBC1 (North East and Cumbria) at 7.30pm tonight; and nationwide on BBC2 at 11.05pm on Thursday 4 August. It will also be available on BBC iPlayer.

Jo Milne’s book, Breaking the Silence is out now. Her Facebook page can be found here.
Read the previous entries in Jo’s diary of firsts and lasts here.

Jo is part of our (sold out, sorry) In Conversation line-up, this Sunday, as part of the South Tyneside Comedy Festival.


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Written by Jo Milne

Gateshead-born author of Breaking the Silence, ambassador and campaigner. Jo has Usher Syndrome, a rare genetic condition causing deafness then the onset of a retinal disease leading to gradual loss of vision. Those who know Jo describe her to be inspiring as she continues to wring the joy out of life. @jomilne10