You may be wondering what you are looking at in the above picture but this is one of six solar powered hearing aids that Dave and I took to Kenya in January. In our attempts to help the deaf children that we are sponsoring, I wondered last year if it were possible to integrate deaf children into their local communities instead of isolating them in boarding schools. If this were possible, then children could live at home with their families and begin to function in their home environments instead of living isolated from them. This coming year is an experiment to see if we can invest in a practical hearing aid and possibly eliminate the need for specialized schools. Don't get me wrong, the school in Webuye, Kenya is doing wonderful things for these children. Hearing aids will not be the answer for all the deaf children of Kenya since many of those with severe hearing loss would not benefit. But for the cost of school fees for one year, a hearing aid could be purchased and these children can learn to function in the safety and comfort of their homes.
I have seen with my own eyes that hearing aids can be problematic even here in Canada. My father has used them for years. Even in the West, they are sensitive and must be treated with care in order for them to function efficiently. Imagine the escalated problems that arise in bringing them to a Majority World country. There is the issue of weather conditions and dust that these units will be exposed to. They will be used by children who are not necessarily as conscious of caring for delicate units like these. In addition to that, there is the problem of having steady power available for these units in a place where hearing aid batteries are rare if not too expensive for the average person. The unit that you see above is a re-chargeable, solar powered with 2 sets of batteries. In rural areas in particular where power is scarce if not non-existent, powering up rechargeable batteries is almost impossible. We hope that making use of the sun will change that.
Our one year experiment will determine several things. First, what is the life span of the hearing aids themselves? What is the life span of these batteries? How well do they re-charge during the rainy season? How does the weather and dust affect the performance of these units? There are many questions that we hope to have a better understanding of over the coming 12 months.
While we were there two months ago, we met with Agrai, a government official that performs hearing assessments not only for the school we are involved with but for a large part of Kenya. He makes assessments on the children prior to registering them at the school and so I had his contact information before we arrived. I had made a meeting date with him and on that date, we met Agrai to assess the hearing aids as well as several children that are being sponsored by ReACT. It was wonderful to see some of these children really hear for the first time in their lives! Many gave groans of delight to hear a voice for the first time! Upon assessing several of the children, Agrai decided on 6 of the children who showed the most potential for their use who will use these hearing aids over the coming months. (The pic below show some of the children being assessed.) A teacher has also been assigned to monitor these children as well as do speech therapy with them.
So this has become a branch of one of the trees we've planted in Webuye and we are excited to see if this branch grafts with the rest of the tree. Thanks for all your interest and prayers for this project. Thanks too for those who sowed seed directly into this project. We are excited to see what this year brings!