Over 100 deaf Haiti children recieved the gift of hearing from a five member Hope of Hearing team, June 1-7. The group, supported by the Texas Conference of the Unied Methodist Church, tested 360 children from five schools for the deaf in the nation and fitted 107 of them with hearing aids donated by patrons in the United States.
The 2003 team consisted of Gil Hanke, a speech-language pathologist from Nacogdoches, audiologists Frank Brister, Sally Muhlbach and Ric Gauthier and Gina Wood, a deaf educator with signing skills.
"For the first time in my 15 years of going to Haiti, I can honestly say that at least some of the country has gotten better in the last year," Hanke said. "It still has a long way to go."
Upon thier arrival, the team sorted the materials to be used. "Part of this task was to estimate the number of hearing aids each school would need," Hanke said. "These estimates turned out to be fairly accurate, and we were able to use all the 107 hearing aids we had brought."
Then, they visited the local St. Marc school. "We were warmly welcomed and set up in the same pattern that would be repeated at the other schools," Hanke said. "I visually checked their ears and used a Tympanometer to check the function of their middle ear. Very few of the children had any middle ear infections or disorders. Next, Gauthier or Mulhbach tested each child. This testing was not to see if they were hearing impaired – we knew that already. We were looking for residual hearing; some response of at least two frequencies in an ear."
Brister placed a hearing aid and temporary ear mold on those with residual hearing; ear-mold impressions were then sent back to the United States so custom molds could be made.
A local Haitian woman traveled with the team on the first two days to assist in the process.
"I came to see their eyes; I’ve never seen anything like it," she told the team. "I love to watch their eyes when they hear for the first time."
The next day, the team traveled to a school at Port-au-Prince.
""Each day was another school; each day another set of blessings," said Hanke. "In the five schools we visited this year, we tested 360 children and a few adults. Most of the adults we tested were teachers who work in the same school where they were taught as children."
The team left a year’s supply of batteries at each of the schools.
"With Gina’s signing skills and Ric’s language skills, we were able provide needed information to the students, parents and teachers about how to care for and get the most use from their new hearing aids," Hanke reported.
"The need is so great, and it is clear that the only chance these children have of having a hearing aid is from this team," Hanke said. "When we leave, the Haitians make us promise to come back. We know that others make similar promises, but many never return."
To Hanke, the trip is more than just giving hearing aids. "One of my missionary mentors taught me on my first trip to Haiti that the single most precious gift you bring is the gift of hope. In Haiti, hope is in very short supply."
According to Hanke, the team members always travel with the grace of God at thier center.
"We also realize how gifted we are, and how gifted those we serve in Haiti are. It helps sort out what is really important on this journey of life. All these factors make this annual trip something special in our lives," Hanke said.
Hope of Hearing ministries will continue their outreach to Haiti; gifts given to the group now will be used in future trips.