TUTORS from Edinburgh are set to fly to Africa to bring sign language to deaf people in some of the world's poorest countries.
The Scottish charity Deaf Action plans to send 30 experts to Malawi and Swaziland to spend two years training interpreters.
They will focus on making sure deaf people are able to access education and healthcare in countries where high levels of HIV and Aids contribute to some of the lowest life expectancies in the world.
Deaf Action director Liz Scott Gibson, who has carried out research and worked with deaf people in Africa, said: "Life is very grim for the people there, with very few work and education opportunities. These things are even less accessible to deaf people."
The charity's scheme has been inspired by heart-breaking stories of people struggling to cope, such as one deaf woman who waited three hours to see a GP only to find she could not understand what he was telling her.
Ms Gibson said: "She had no idea what the doctor had said. It is very sad, and this project is all about seeing what would suit these people best.
"There is a desperate need for sign language interpreters to enable deaf people to access information about HIV and Aids, and other related health matters, as well as education and employment.
"Deaf Action is looking forward to working with its partners in the deaf associations in Malawi and Swaziland to develop the training which is badly needed."
Both countries have fully developed sign languages, but very limited access to interpreters. An exchange system co-ordinated from the charity's head office in Edinburgh will allow Scottish interpreters and teachers to help in deaf association centres set up in Limbe, in Malawi, and Mbabane, in Swaziland.
Meanwhile, African teachers will travel to Edinburgh to learn from Scottish teachers and interpreters.
The scheme is to be funded with the help of a 105,000 grant from the Scottish Executive's International Development Fund (IDF).
Ian Dalton, a sign language teacher taking part in the project, said: "I am looking forward to working with fellow deaf people in Malawi and Swaziland, to train sign language interpreters so that deaf people there can have the same access to services as deaf people have here in Scotland."
During the project, it is hoped that a course curriculum can be set up to train and register 15 interpreters in each country.
Patricia Ferguson, Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, who is in charge of the IDF scheme, said: "This reinforces our international development commitments and particularly supports our co-operation agreement with Malawi." Deaf Action provides advice and support for Scotland's deaf population.