HEAR Haiti volunteers clean hearing aids in the deaf community of Lévêque
Day one on a HEAR Haiti trip means immersion: not just in the culture of Haiti, but in that of Deaf Haiti (the term used to refer to the nation’s community of people with all levels of hearing loss).
As part of a team of nine Sonova volunteers, Connect Hearing’s Jody Pogue and Haley Kurzawa began their work in Haiti earlier this month by piling into a van and diving deep into a Haiti they had never seen on television. First up was a visit to Cité Soleil, the famously harsh section of the nation’s capital, Port-au-Prince. There they spent time with a group of children rescued by one man after the 2010 earthquake in a small structure set up as a four-room school. Next they visited Metal Works, a community of artisans employing members of the deaf population. They also made a stop at the Apparent Project which enables parents, through gainful employment, to keep their children with them and off the streets. Last was Lévêque, the small town where much of the deaf community was relocated from the tent city they formed following the earthquake, and where the team would conduct much of their work for the next week.
For Jody, who recently returned from work with Hear the World’s Kentucky site, this initiation was critical.
“We tend to go to places like Haiti and think we have all the answers but we’re thinking with our own mentality,” Jody noted. “Cathy [Jones, Executive Director of Hear the World US] tries to make sure we start to see beyond this.”
This sometimes means shedding expectations about what “help” looks like. When the HEAR Haiti initiative launched in 2012, volunteers expected to be doing hearing aid screenings and fittings. But they found the community was most concerned about having no source for light at night. As a result, that first trip focused instead on bringing solar panels and lighting to the community.
Since 2012, the initiative has regularly brought teams of audiological specialists to Haiti to provide hearing evaluations, hearing aid fittings, and maintenance services to the hearing impaired community. In an effort to create local jobs and ensure the program’s sustainability, specialists also train local staff members in providing audiological care.
Improving Hearing Health in Gressier
During February’s week-long trip, Jody and Haley performed hearing evaluations and hearing aid fittings at both the Haiti Deaf Academy and at Respire Haiti, a mountaintop medical center and mission in Gressier, Haiti.
While their work allowed them to work with academy students, members of the deaf community and Lévêque’s larger population, they found their work with children left some of the most lasting impressions.
Jody with a smiling G.
One of the most memorable patients was Little G., a boy who had been orphaned in the earthquake and had lost his hearing following a high fever at age six. After traveling for four hours to see the team, he had to wait several more hours until he could be seen. Recounts Jody:
“The whole time he waited and moved through our testing and fitting stations, he had a very serious, stoic expression on his face. The last step was to come into the little room with us and put the hearing aids on. His pastor told him he might hear some noises in his ears before we turned them on for the feedback test. As soon as we did, the most beautiful grin broke out on his face. He didn’t stop smiling the rest of the time.”
Meanwhile Haley told the story of M., a little girl heard sound for the very first time when she was fitted with hearing aids during the trip.
“I said, ‘Bop bop bop’ and her eyes just grew wide. For the next half hour, she kept repeating ‘Bop bop bop.’”
Little M. hears for the first time with Haley
While the trip was not without difficulties – most notably a dire water shortage that left the orphanage where volunteers stayed without running water for three days and has made already scarce access to clean water even more difficult – both Haley and Jody said they would return in a heartbeat.
“It took me about 45 minutes after getting home before I didn’t feel too guilty to shower,” remembers Haley. “But I was looking at pictures of little M. yesterday and I can’t describe the desire to go back.”
Says Jody, “I just feel so grateful for the experience and amazed at the generous spirits of the people we met.”