Last Saturday, I sat in a small room in Xela, Guatemala with the principals of five different schools for the deaf.  The purpose of the meeting was to introduce the model of professional development and training that the Global Foundation For Children With Hearing Loss provides in Vietnam and to explore whether a similar program would be of interest to the teachers and families of Guatemala.

I first met Mike Mallahan, the director of the audiology and ENT program that Healing the Children conducts in Guatemala two years ago. His program has been sending teams of surgeons and audiologists to this country for the past nine years to conduct ear surgeries and provide audiology care to children. Along the way, Mike has helped to establish small centers of care to ensure that children with hearing loss would receive the ongoing audiology support they need.

He and his partners in Guatemala recognized a need for teacher training and family counseling to foster auditory and language development in children with hearing loss newly fit with hearing aids. He expressed interest in the Global Foundation’s work in Vietnam and suggested that our two organizations might join forces in collaboration with the Guatemalans to address the gaps in need.

The Global Foundation For Children With Hearing Loss remains committed to Vietnam and our partners and program there. We are now entering our third year of operation in Vietnam. This summer, we will be training over 160 teachers, medical teams, parents, and other professionals from 38 schools and 2 hospitals in expertise areas to help children with hearing loss develop listening and spoken language. We continue to explore and implement new avenues for continuing education, tele-health, research, and otherwise support the Vietnamese effort to provide support for their children who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Some of the principals in our meeting in Xela had driven for 3-4 hours one way on mountainous roads to join us for this Saturday afternoon conversation.  They were honest and candid in their assessment of the current education system and they were passionate in their ideas and energy to find ways to better support children with hearing loss. 

At one point, a comment was made that soon became a common theme that I derived throughout the ensuing week of meetings: the teachers, families, and administrators work hard to provide for the children currently enrolled in their deaf education programs, but they are also forward-thinking. They are enthusiastic to take the long-range view and work together to improve the system and fill gaps in the pipeline of services. In doing so, they will create a brighter future for the generations of kids with hearing loss yet to come in Guatemala. It was incredibly inspiring.  I was humbled by their trust and earnestness to collaborate to help them get to where they want to go.

The discussion led me to reflect yet again on how people are the same everywhere. Our cultures are different, our skin color, our clothes, but at the end of the day, everyone wants to feel secure, have a roof over their head, food on the table, and opportunities for their children.  The initial course of our lives is very much affected by things we don’t control. Where we are born. Our economic status. Our talents. Our disabilities. All of these set our course.

Children with hearing loss in developing countries face some challenging odds for leading independent lives. What’s frustrating is that this doesn’t have to be the case. What’s needed is earlier identification of hearing loss, greater access to technology, and more education and training for teachers and professionals to support the children. That combination, in turn, will give more of these kids a chance at success in this world.  We can’t change the hand we’re dealt in life. What we can do though is help each other make the best of what we’ve got.

Mike and I went on to meet with other representatives in the Guatemalan community that work with children with hearing loss and visited classrooms at a school for the deaf.  In the ensuring months, we will continue discussions with the Guatemalans to identify potential plans for a new multi-year program that would lay the foundation of audiology support, professional development for teachers, and empower families to help children with hearing loss achieve their full potential.