I just returned from two weeks in the Czech Republic and the United Arab Emirates.  A study of contrasts to be sure with one country steeped in history and the other having just celebrated its 40th birthday.

The culture, religion, and political philosophies of the Czech Republic and the UAE are different and yet the people share at least two commonalities – a focus on family and a desire for their children to grow up having every opportunity for success in life – priorities that also extend to Guatemala and Vietnam, and to other corners of our world. Looking to a brighter future for our children is the thread that binds us as human beings and inspires us to make positive change where we see opportunity to do so. 

I am grateful to my local hostesses in both locations for sharing their worlds with me and offering me friendship. I immediately sensed the depth of their commitment to children with hearing loss in their respective countries and look forward to supporting their efforts.

I spent a week with the staff of the Federation of Parents and Friends of the Hearing-Impaired in the Czech Republic, a non-profit organization that serves as a demonstration of what grassroots efforts can make possible.

The Federation was initiated 20 years ago by a group of parents who wanted to improve the educational options for their children who had hearing loss and enable these children to integrate fully into their hearing communities.

The organization opened with a resource library, providing a treasure of information for parents who had children who are deaf or hard of hearing in an age before the Internet and when the country had just opened itself up to the world.  The Federation was instrumental in initiating newborn hearing screening and government financial support for cochlear implants and hearing aids in the Czech Republic.

It now provides early intervention services to families with hearing loss, offers a preschool to support these children, and administers educational and outreach support to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.  A highlight was my dinner out with a group of Czech adults who were deaf and yet could lip-read and respond to my questions and comments in English.  

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates is unlike anywhere else I have been. A fascinating place that is young and growing at an astounding rate and yet maintains an old soul, comfortable-in-its skin quality.  The people come from all over the world to make their home here in a sort of melting pot of the Middle East and yet Arab traditions are still strongly felt.

I enjoyed meeting the local audiologists, many of whom were trained overseas, and learning more about the scope of services they provide. There is a newborn hearing screening program and hearing technology is provided free of charge to nationals. This is a stratified society where nationals receive free healthcare, education, and other government supports while expats and immigrants must pay for such services out of pocket. The opportunity area lies in the therapy and audiology support for families after their children with hearing loss are fit with hearing aids or cochlear implants, regardless of their social position. 

The Global Foundation is exploring opportunities to support the healthcare and education communities in both the Czech Republic and United Arab Emirates through consultation,  professional development, and training to establish and/or enhance services for children with hearing loss and their families in both countries.