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Duo bringing more than just hearing aid
Stepping into the Bali classroom, hearing instrument specialist Vikki MacKay expected to hear the usual sounds of schoolchildren laughing and playing.
But as she opened the door, all she heard was silence.
It is a peculiar experience to walk into a full classroom and hear almost no sound, but it is one she has experienced elsewhere working with deaf children in Third World countries.
“It was the first school we started working in while in Bali and it was a very large school, but it was so quiet. There was very little sound,” MacKay said. “Now, seven to eight years later, I go to that same school and the children have had access to hearing aids and services and they are so loud. They still don’t talk, but they were yelling and laughing. That’s a picture of the interaction that can happen when we hear each other. You don’t have to talk to be a part of the hearing world.”
MacKay, who has a background in pediatrics, began her work overseas nearly 20 years ago when she was recruited by Rotary International. Since then, she has helped children in places like Zimbabwe, Uganda, and most recently, Indonesia.
Her passion was what struck Richard Zeeman, owner of Destination Hearing in White Rock, to join the cause three years ago. After the two met at a trade show, Zeeman offered up his expertise repairing hearing aids and creating ear moulds. Shortly after, he travelled to Bali and began working with the children and young adults who attend the schools.
“The work Richard does is invaluable to us. We have developed a clinic that can repair hearing aids and make ear moulds for children which is what we needed,” MacKay said. “Now, we employ graduated deaf students from the local schools and Richard comes over and teaches them how to repair and make those moulds.
“Before, we had no ability to repair those hearing aids and it was very limiting for us. Now, we’re not only able to repair but we can teach staff how to make moulds.”
Currently, the two are collecting funds and hearing aids – in any condition – for MacKay to take to her next trip to Bali in February.
Unlike in Canada, there is a staggering number of Balinese children who have hearing disabilities – many of whom never learn to speak – due to genetics and tropical diseases, such as malaria. Another prominent cause includes poor medical care.
“Something like a prolonged fever can lead to deafness,” MacKay said.
The lack of medical resources makes it difficult, even for those who are given a hearing aid, to continue improving, which is why MacKay, who works with CV Lumina and the Lumina Hearing Centre, aims to find a donor who can help with associated costs, such as batteries.
For one family in Bali, a pair of double-A batteries can equal the cost of food for a day, MacKay explained. Many are unable to shoulder the burden of those costs.
And the longer the children are left without resources, the more detrimental it can be, Zeeman noted.
“If they don’t develop speech or receive hearing assistance by the time they’re 10 – at the latest – they won’t develop speech,” he said, adding that while more than 300 children have received hearing aids, hundreds more have not.
And it’s not just money and hearing aids that are in demand, MacKay said. There is a growing need for people who are able to volunteer their time and help teach students basic communication skills.
While it may seem daunting to work with those who are considered profoundly deaf – both mute and deaf – Zeeman explained the ability to communicate is not just restricted to speech and hearing.
“Of course it’s a challenge, but they are so interested and can learn so quickly. You have to be visual and you just show them with your hands,” he said. “It’s a very emotional thing, to see the impact of how something that people donate from a community, that may have just been sitting in a drawer and is almost meaningless to them, can have when connected to a child. It changes a life.”
Hearing aids and donations are being collected year-round at Destination Hearing, 101-1790 152 St.
For more information about Lumina, visit www.luminaabc.com