The people of Haiti are challenged by an unstable political situation, environmental factors such as earthquakes and floods, and limited access to medical care. Together, with the local aid organization Commissioned Believers Deaf Ministry (CBDM), the Swiss Hear the World Foundation gives hearing impaired children and their families assistance by providing audiological care and speech therapy.
With its tropical climate and Caribbean beaches, Haiti appears to be the “picture-perfect” island. But Haiti, which shares the same island as the Dominican Republic, is also one of the poorest countries in the world. Its approximately 11 million inhabitants live on an average income of about $813 GDP per capita according to the United Nations, and suffer from inadequate medical care. Children with untreated hearing loss are among those hit hardest by this.
A Shelter of Hope for People with Hearing Loss
On central Haiti’s west coast, about 20 miles from the capital city of Port-au-Prince, lies the small village of Lévêque. What makes this village unique is that, after the devastating earthquake in 2010, more than 160 deaf families established a community here. Lévêque is also home to the Haiti Deaf Academy, a school for disadvantaged children with hearing loss. The Academy helps them with speech development and education/vocational training, as well as future integration into the world of work.
“When we first came here, many of the children didn’t even know their names. Now they are able to communicate,” said Cathy Jones, Hear Haiti project leader and former president of Phonak US.
Since 2012, the Hear the World Foundation—along with CBDM—has been supporting the Deaf Academy with the aim of enabling children and their families to benefit from long-term access to audiological care and speech therapy. The foundation provides hearing aids, audiological equipment, and funding.
Win-Win: Volunteers Build Up Local Capacity
Volunteers—employees of the Swiss hearing solutions provider Sonova—are sent out to Lévêque several times a year to offer on-the-ground assistance. These volunteers conduct hearing tests, fit hearing aids, carry out follow-up checks on children who are already receiving treatment, and repair faulty devices. In addition to this, they offer hearing screenings to schools in the local area so that any cases of hearing loss can be identified and treated as early as possible.
The volunteers also provide training for local staff. After all, making sure the relevant expertise is available right where it is needed is the only way to guarantee sustainable audiological care, therefore ensuring the long-term success of the project. Another important benefit of the training is that it creates jobs, thus improving the future prospects of the local population. This voluntary project changes lives, but not just those in Haiti.
“Ever since my first assignment there, I haven’t been able to get the project out of my head,” said Marisa Breslin, a US-based technical support manager for hearing aid manufacturer Phonak. “I now see my place in the world in a completely new light and realize just how much of a difference I can actually make.”
An Award to Recognize the Sustainable Project Work
In the fifth year of a fruitful collaboration to build up local capacity, the Hear Haiti project was honored with a Richard Seewald Award in early 2017. The Hear the World Foundation presents this award annually for a sustainable aid project that demonstrates an extraordinary vision and passion as well as professional implementation.
About the Hear the World Foundation
Founded in 2006 by Sonova, a provider of hearing solutions, the Hear the World Foundation supports disadvantaged people with hearing loss around the world and gets involved in hearing loss prevention. In particular, the Foundation focuses on projects for children with hearing loss, enabling them to develop to their fullest potential. Since its establishment, the nonprofit Swiss foundation has supported over 80 projects in 39 countries with funding, hearing aid technology, and expertise. More than 100 high-profile ambassadors, such as Bryan Adams, Cindy Crawford, Plácido Domingo, Annie Lennox, and Sting support Hear the World as ambassadors for conscious hearing.