The Amazon rain forest is hot and humid and sticky and, frankly, overwhelming. And it was nothing to complain about, Katie Kelley found right away.
Kelley, operations manager for Vancouver medical and audiology management company Audigy Group, was one of 11 employees who visited two Peruvian cities as part of a charitable mission in August co-sponsored by the Starkey Hearing Foundation and Rotary International. Over the course of a couple of weeks, the group fitted nearly 5,000 Peruvians with nearly 10,000 new hearing aids.
“There’s no way in a million years we could complain” about the conditions they were visiting when the people living there are so joyful and appreciative, she said.
They also suffer more than their fair share of hearing loss, she said; that’s due to both the natural aging process as well as simple maladies such as influenza and even the common cold — and injuries and mishaps that are relatively common in the jungle, like getting “sticks and rocks in their ears,” Kelley said. Such problems would be easily treatable, if only the people had access to care, Kelley said.
Lining up at the group’s first stop, a Rotary Center in the jungle-isolated city of Iquitos, were people from ages 5 to 97, Kelley said. “So many kids,” she said. “In our first day, we fit 200 people with hearing aids.” And that was a light day; more typical was 500. “When you are there and they’re all lined up, you just keep going till the last person is taken care of,” she said.
Sparking smile after smile with the gift of new or improved hearing was an unforgettably moving experience. “I just didn’t understand the impact this was going to have on me, but it was so amazing,” Kelley said. “I still don’t think I can really comprehend the changes in these lives as they go forward.”
But it was in the coastal city of Piura, Audigy’s second stop, where Kelley had her most unforgettable encounter, she said.
“There was one day when I fit a little girl. She came up to my chair and she was smiling, just a beautiful little girl. We tried some hearing aids and when we got the right ones fitted and I switched them on, she just lit up. You could see her light shining from the inside.
“Her little brother had hearing loss, as well. He was so sweet and shy and he was so little,” Kelley remembered — sister and brother were around 8 and 6, she said — and he, too, lit up like the sun when his new hearing aids switched on, she said.
“They say ‘hello’ to each other for the very first time. Their mom is crying because they can all hear each other,” Kelley said. “It’s the first time the three of them have ever communicated.”
Watching that little family walk away, hand in hand and changed forever, was “pretty amazing,” Kelley said.
She added that everybody touched by this mission got trained in maintaining and cleaning both their brand-new hearing aids as well as their ears. They also got supplies including a year’s worth of batteries, as well the resources to continue getting more after that.
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