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Haiti: Gaining trust

18. July 2019
By Nadja Laible, hearing acoustics expert at Phonak Germany

My name is Nadja Laible. I am a hearing acoustics expert and have been working in the Audiology department at Phonak Germany since 2015. Ever since I started this position, I have wanted to go on assignment as a volunteer for Hear the World. The opportunity finally arose in May 2018, when I had the chance to support the project #HearHaiti. I was thrilled! 

Once it was confirmed, I immediately began to get ready. This involved getting many vaccinations and daily exchanges with the other volunteers from Canada and the USA.

Meticulous preparation and a fundraising campaign for new mattresses

The Hear the World Foundation works together with local partners in each country. The partner in Haiti, the Haiti Deaf Academy, asked us to help them with a fundraising campaign before our visit, as the children residing at the Haiti Deaf Children’s Home were in urgent need of new mattresses.

In order to support the Haitian economy, the mattresses were not to be cheap imports, but mattresses made locally. I then asked my immediate circle of friends at Sonova Germany, and even my relatives in Australia, for support. I was particularly pleased when, just before my departure to Haiti, the news came in - we achieved our fundraising goal. The collected donations were enough to provide a mattress for every child. 

The journey begins!

On May 10th, 2018, I set off for Frankfurt Airport with 15 mosquito nets – and plenty of joy and excitement. I then connected to a flight to Miami. It was at this airport where I first met the Sonova colleagues with whom I would spend the next eight days in a foreign country with a different culture. From Miami, we all flew together on a two-hour flight to Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti.
Haiti is a nation on a Caribbean island, the eastern part of which is occupied by the Dominican Republic. Haiti is a very mountainous country, which has been harmed repeatedly by numerous natural disasters. Most notably, in 2010, it suffered the most devastating earthquake of the 21st century, with 316,000 people killed and 310,000 injured. Haiti is one of the four poorest countries in the world with political instability and frequent social and political unrest. 

We spent the first days in Port-au-Prince, where six of us shared a room provided by New Life for Children. Accommodations were guarded around the clock by security personnel to ensure our safety. During these first days, we were visited by a group of pediatric nurses, whom we taught how to conduct hearing screenings and hearing tests on babies and infants. This collaboration was a great start to our stay in Haiti and it felt wonderful to pass on knowledge to local professionals so directly.

Off to Hinche

We then prepared for our trip to Hinche, an inland city that is home to the organization Kinderhilfe, where we were scheduled to test local children’s hearing. Once packed up, a five-hour car journey lay ahead of us. It was the rainy season and the water levels in the five rivers that we had to cross (without bridges) were all high. This trip was adventure-filled and one or two of us were understandably a little frightened during the drive.

When we arrived in Hinche, we were welcomed with open arms by teachers, parents and volunteers. We set up our hearing test stations in little bungalows with bast roofs (roofs made of plant material).

Countless families lined up outside our stations to get their children tested for hearing loss. Most waited patiently in the sun for several hours before being seen. One family had even spent four hours crossing the jungle on foot, so that we could see them.

Gaining trust was the biggest challenge

We began to examine and clean the children’s ears. Some ears were inflamed, and in some we also found foreign matter inside them, such as little hair clips.

Our biggest challenge was gaining the children’s trust. After all, we speak a different language and have a different skin color. Fortunately, with the necessary patience, it always worked out. It’s an indescribable feeling when you’ve earned the trust of a skeptical child. A child who has little more than their family and their life, but is still happy and beams at you.

Over the course of two days, we spent more than ten hours in the tropical heat, assessing and treating as many children as possible. It was hard work and everyone was pushed to their limits physically, but it was also the most wonderful and fulfilling experience I have ever had. And it all took place amongst chickens, neon-colored geckos and the breathtaking beauty of nature.

A touching conclusion to our visit

We spent our last day visiting the Haiti Deaf Children’s Home. Most children at the home had already been provided with hearing aids, but their devices were in urgent need of cleaning and maintenance, and their settings had to be checked.

For children new to the home, we fit them with hearing aids. On that particular day, one young girl heard her own voice, along with other voices, for the first time in her life. I will never forget the look of happiness on her face or the tears in her eyes.

For me it was an honor, and I still feel honored, to have supported #HearHaiti. Thank you very much to the Hear the World Foundation.


More about the project supported by the Hear the World Foundation