For several years I have wanted to get more involved in the humanitarian efforts of the Hear the World Foundation. So I am happy and honored to have had the opportunity to be the first official Sonova employee volunteer. In conjunction with Michaela Fuchs, an ENT (ear, nose and throat doctor) from Germany affiliated with Cargo Human Care, a charitable effort of Lufthansa I went to Nairobi, Kenia from April 7 to 11 to visit the foundation’s partner project „Regain Hearing – Join Life“.For the last couple years, the Hear the World Foundation has been collaborating with Dr. Fuchs to provide hearing services and hearing aids for disadvantaged children in Nairobi.

Last year, the decision was made to enlist the services of a new audiologist to support improved audiology and fitting efforts. Her name is Serah Ndegwa, and she happens to be a former student of the Hear the World Foundation Advisory Board Member, John Bamford. The Hear the World Foundation has funded diagnostic equipment (audiometer and Visual Reinforcement Audiometry (VRA) equipment) used in her clinic. My assignment was primarily to visit the site and make sure the facilities and services are appropriate for the needs of the children served, specifically relative to pediatric hearing aid fitting which requires some special considerations and training. A key element of proper pediatric hearing aid fitting is verification. So, once I found out I would have the opportunity to make this volunteer trip, I contacted Serah and discovered that while she is well equipped for diagnostics, she did not have verification equipment available for use with the children to be fit with hearing aids donated by the Hear the World Foundation. I set out to see if we could get verification equipment as well. To make a long story short, I contacted Audioscan in Canada. Happily, just a few emails later, we were blessed with the donation by Audioscan of their latest Axiom verification unit. Timing was tight, but it arrived in Switzerland just in time for me to take it with me. Big thanks to Audioscan and everyone, including those in shipping at Unitron in Kitchener, who helped us get this equipment in the nick of time.

Finally there.

Upon arrival, after a few free hours to see sites around Nairobi, I met with ENT Michaela Fuchs and another general practice physician working with Cargo Human Care for dinner and to sort out details for the coming few days. This leads to the reason for the title of this report – “Hakuna Matata”: Most of us recognize this phrase from the song in Disney’s “The Lion King”. In Zwahili it means “no worries”.  Well, it turned out that a flexible, no worries approach to my time in Nairobi was helpful. Swiss precision and punctuality are not really the way of life in Kenya, and we had an interesting occurrence that required last minute adjustments to our agenda. Our second day here was originally going to be the day that Michaela would see all the children to be fit with new hearing aids, with the fittings occurring the following day. But due to the inauguration of the new president of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, that day, it was declared a national holiday. The whole country, or at least whole Nairobi was off work participating in or viewing the ceremonies and celebrations, so we were unable to work that day. But, hey – Hakuna Matata! We found a way to adapt the schedule to get everything done. 

The first day.

I spent most of my first work day installing the new Audioscan equipment in the Nairobi Audiology Center where Serah has her office and training her on how to use it for verification, in conjunction with Phonak fitting software. 

The second day.

The next day, I had the interesting, unexpected opportunity to view the celebrations of the presidential inauguration up close and experience Nairobi with Julius, a local guide. In the spirit of charitable service, my time in Kenya also inspired me to “adopt” (make a donation to support the care of), Naipoki, an elephant orphan at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant orphanage.

The third day.

The third day was all work. From 8am to about 6pm, nonstop, we fit children from Joymereen school, a special school for children with hearing loss. Working together, Serah and I fit 18 Phonak Naída S hearing aids  to 10 children, 8 binaural and 2 monaural fittings. We saw a few more kids whom we could not fit as they either did not have earmolds or diagnostic results yet, but got the ball rolling for them to be fit soon, as well. We actively used the new verification equipment. It was very good practice for Serah to see how to use it (and how not to in some instances). 

Due to the last-minute adjustments we had to make to our schedule, I did not get the opportunity to personally visit the Cargo Human Care Clinic with Dr. Fuchs, but we met each evening for dinner to discuss our efforts. I also had a last-minute chance to meet with Jackie Odour who works with the Jabali Kindergarten, another site which has received support from the Hear the World Foundation. We discussed the progress of kids with hearing loss at Jabali Kindergarten, issues with hearing aids (maintenance and repairs) and a parent self-help group Jackie started with the Help of Hear the World, and the new Jabali primary school, which I had a chance to see in person.

Overall, it was great to see and directly participate in the efforts of the Hear the World Foundation, something I have wanted to do for a long time. More employee volunteer opportunities will be available in the future, so I encourage my fellow Sonova employees to take the chance to really get involved!

Douglas Baldwin, AuD
Audiology and Training Manager, Unitron International