A Caribbean nation of 11 million people, Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world and for people living with hearing loss and other ailments, there is virtually no chance for support.
The good news is there are people working hard to change that. A wonderful initiative called the HEAR Haiti project is trying to make a difference in Haiti. Three outstanding Canadian Connect Hearing employees were part of a group of 17 professionals who travelled to Haiti to help children overcome hearing loss. Audiologist Sarah Beaulieu from Halifax, Hearing Aid Practitioner & Director of Sales Michael North and Nerissa Davies, an Audiologist from Courtenay all took part in the life-changing experience.
According to the Hear The World Foundation website, the HEAR HAITI project aims to provide sustainable support for the people of Leveque, a community of people with hearing loss in Haiti. The purpose of this is to ensure that the hearing impaired children of Leveque have access to audiological care and speech therapy. In Leveque , there is virtually no chance of children with untreated hearing loss developing at an appropriate rate for their age. In 2014, a comprehensive project – HEAR HAITI – was set up in Leveque to ensure early diagnosis and sustainable treatment is provided for children with hearing loss.
Davies says her trip to Haiti was a moving experience and one of the meaningful things she has done in her life.
“From start to finish, it was all I was hoping for and more,” says Davies. “Some of the great things we were doing was facilitating hearing in kids who had never had hearing their whole lives. Facilitating hearing for the first time is always a remarkable experience, but even more so for these kids who have been so underprivileged their whole lives. There are these moments when they turn their hearing aids on for the first time, the little kids face lights up and he starts making speech sounds right away. You know, this is the stuff of lives. This is the reason why we do the job, it's to help people communicate with their loved ones and never has that been so profoundly effective as in these cases with kids who have been so challenged their whole lives.”
Connect Hearing Canada has stressed the importance of hearing tests, and often encourages people to come in to a clinic to get checked out.
Sadly for thousands of people around the world, it isn't that easy.
According to Hear The World, hearing loss is still a neglected issue, even though the figures speak volumes: more than 15% of the adult population is affected by hearing loss, and around half of these cases could have been avoided by taking preventive measures. Some 665,000 children with significant hearing loss are born every year. In countries like Haiti that are ravaged by poverty, it's extremely difficult to get people with hearing loss the support they need.
Beaulieu called her trip to Haiti a truly an amazing experience, one that changed her perspective by helping her see how other people are living in different parts of the world.
“Overall, it was a life changing event, I will stay involved with Haiti Deaf Academy and I will try and go on more trips in the future. After seeing the kids it's difficult to just say that was great and move on with my life. So it's something that I'm trying to figure out how I can help and how I can continue to make a difference in the children's lives,” said Beaulieu.
Beaulieu said even though there was a language barrier she was able to connect with several children, including a 12-year-old boy named Johnson.
“We found different ways to communicate with each other, to connect with each other,” said Beaulieu. “He stayed by my side most of the time and I guess he felt the same bond that I felt with him. It was very difficult leaving. He cried, he said he didn't want me to go, and I promised that I would return. And of course, once you say yes and make a promise I knew I would have to follow up with that promise to see him again soon.”
It's a beautiful story, even more so because Beaulieu was so moved by the connection she made with a Johnson she decided to sponsor him through the Haiti Deaf Academy organization. It's just another way that the HEAR Haiti program has not only made a difference helping children with hearing loss find hope in Haiti – it's also connecting youngsters to caring people and opening up new opportunities for them to grow, connect and be successful.