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American Company Brings Hearing Aids to Haiti

Frederic Rondeau of Starkey Hearing Foundation outfits a hearing aid for a Haitian child, Marchand Dessalines, Haiti, January 9, 2012.
Frederic Rondeau of Starkey Hearing Foundation outfits a hearing aid for a Haitian child, Marchand Dessalines, Haiti, January 9, 2012.

On a recent visit to Haiti, members of a private American foundation outfitted 400 Haitians with hearing aids. Some had lost their hearing aids in the rubble of the 2010 earthquake and hadn't been able to hear for nearly two years. Others, had not been able to hear since birth. 

The silence sounds strange. More than a hundred people just sitting. Organizers call names, but others have to answer for them. Their silence is why they are here.

Some wait for longer than seven hours. But the wait is worth it. Many will hear for the first time in their lives. Like Jean Louis Roberson, 38.

He's never learned to talk. Because no one ever thought he could.  

An American organization, the Starkey Hearing Foundation, travels to developing countries,  fitting people with hearing aids. On this day, they are in Marchand Dessalines, Haiti, two hours from the capital Port-au-Prince.

There are no computers here in the Haitian countryside, no digital hearing analysis. And even these hearing aids - they’re not the latest technology. They are from the 1990s. But Starkey uses these to reach the most people.

"Most of the people are from schools for the deaf," said Starkey. "They have severe to profound hearing loss and we're trying to maximize their potential to function in this environment."

Barry Freeman says the foundation's work goes beyond the hearing aids.

"We are going to see that his ears are clean, that there's no infection," he said.

The foundation also trains Haitians to continue its efforts. The foundation invites celebrities to join its work. Starkey is producing a reality show about these stars volunteering with the needy.

"You can do something and you should do something. Our challenge is ‘What will you do today?’” explains Bill Austin, the founder.

Today, in Haiti, the celebrity is Miley Cyrus, an American pop singer and actress who starred in the Disney TV series Hannah Montana.

"Being able to hear music is even more important than me being able to sing it myself.  Just being able to hear it and to feel each other and connect with each other," said Cyrus.

Neighbors who are watching all this are speechless for other reasons.

"They couldn't hear before and now they can," said a man.

Jean Louis Roberson's aids are fully adjusted. He hears his voice for the first time. And, he can't stop talking.

His words may sound crude and coarse. But to Roberson, hearing himself speak is music to his ears.

* Don't miss: Path to Recovery, a Special Report from Haiti


Carolyn Presutti

Carolyn Presutti is an Emmy and Silver World Medal award winning television correspondent who works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters.   She has also won numerous Associated Press awards and a Clarion for her coverage of The Syrian Medical Crisis, Haiti, The Boston Marathon Bombing, Presidential Politics, The Southern Economy, and The 9/11 Bombing Anniversary.  In 2013, Carolyn aired exclusive stories on the Asiana plane crash and was named VOA’s chief reporter with Google Glass.

You can follow Carolyn on Twitter at CarolynVOA, on Google Plus and Facebook.

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