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Texas team gives hope to Haitian children

6/23/2003 News media contact: Kathy Gilbert · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE: A photograph is available with this story.

A UMNS Feature By J. Richard Peck*

A five-member team from the Texas Annual (regional) Conference recently brought the gift of hearing to children enrolled in five schools for the deaf in Haiti.

Gil Hanke, a speech-language pathologist from Nacogdoches, led a team that tested 360 children and a few adults, and fitted 107 children with hearing aids donated by people from across the United States.

"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."

The 2003 team, which visited Haiti June 1-7, consisted of audiologists Frank Brister, Sally Muhlbach, and Ric Gauthier. Gina Wood, a deaf educator with signing skills, also accompanied the group.

On their Sunday arrival, the team members sorted out the materials. "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."

Their first stop was at a school several hours away at St. Marc. "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."

Those with residual hearing were sent to Brister, who put on a hearing aid and a temporary ear mold. Once the team was sure the children were benefiting from the hearing aids, Brister and Wood made ear-mold impressions to be taken back to the United States so custom ear molds could be made. Once the impressions were made, the children returned to their classes, hearing better than ever before.

A Haitian woman who traveled with the team on the first day showed up the second day at a school in Port-au-Prince, the capital. Hanke thanked her for coming and for helping organize the paperwork for the children.

"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."

"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. Eveready donated the batteries.

"With Gina's signing skills and Ric's language skills (as a Haitian American who speaks fluent Creole), 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."

The team leader regards his trips as more than 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."

The team members see God's hand and grace in the faces of those whom they serve, he said. "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."

Units of United Methodist Men, United Methodist Women, an Eagle Scout project, churches, districts and individuals, donated the hearing aids. Hanke is the U.S. national president of United Methodist Men.

The team will continue to need hearing aids of any kind, style and condition. Behind-the-ear hearing aids will be reconditioned; all the others will be sent to the Starkey Foundation, which gives the team credit for future purchases of reconditioned hearing aids. Gifts given now will be used in future trips to Haiti.

Hope of Hearing is supported by the Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church through its Partners in Mission Program. A national affiliate of United Methodist Men, the team is also supported by three Rotary Clubs in the Nacogdoches area. Scores of individuals and churches also send funds and hearing aids.

To contribute hearing aids for future trips, contact Hanke at 803 Wildwood, Nacogdoches, TX 75961, or ghanke@sfasu.edu.

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*Peck is the communications coordinator for the Nashville, Tenn.,-based Commission on United Methodist Men.

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