Open Ears is following a group of Sonova team members as they head to Haiti with the Hear The World Foundation. Sylvia Ciechanowski is Roger & FM Customer Service Representative at Phonak Canada. She loves to travel, has a passion for dancing, and dreams of one day becoming an audiologist.
As soon as we walked through the gate of Haiti Deaf Academy, each one of us were hugged and greeted with huge smiles. We only worked with the children for a few days, but I’m sure the impact they have had on my view of the world will stay with me for the rest of my life. I am surprised by how many of the little details I can remember about each child. Rose taught me my first words in sign language, Albert allowed us into his world by painting beautiful pictures for us. Beu even taught me a new way to style my hair! It is amazing how kids can just pull on your heartstrings, allowing you to just love them instantly.
The kids quickly realized I was not fluent in sign language and brought me over to their sign language alphabet wall so I could write out my name for them. As soon as they realized it was “Sylvia”, they assigned me a sign language name using the first letter of my name. It motivated me to learn as much sign language as possible, now that I’ve realized what a fascinating and animated way of communicating it is. It is unbelievable that when these kids were first admitted to the school (only two years ago) most of them were non-verbal. Now, they have been taught a whole new way of communicating with each other and world around them through sign language. They make friends, communicate, learn and they know they are loved and cared for.
Haiti Deaf Academy also provides tutors to train the older students in a certain trade or skill in order to ensure they have a way to earn a living. Education is the strongest defense we have to end poverty. Students have tutors to learn how to sew purses or wallets, or artists that teach the kids how to paint. These children are so talented and have abilities I would never be able to compete with.
Before I left for the trip, I collected donations for the trip from my colleagues at Phonak Canada. After seeing the many needs of the hearing impaired community in Haiti, I have decided to designate the donations that were raised for a tutor who can teach the art of MetalWorks to the children at Haiti Deaf Academy. The artists at MetalWorks create beautiful bowls, plates, trays, and figurines that are sculpted out of sheets of flattened metal. Deaf students are the perfect candidates for this trade because the banging and loud sounds from metalworking will not affect a deaf student as it would others, learning is acquired only through visual cues, and hearing is not a necessity to excel at it. Also, they can then sell these items to support themselves and their families.
After this week, I have also promised myself that I will never be wasteful again. The excitement and gratitude these kids have for everything they receive really changed my perspective on all of the things we take for granted. There was genuine excitement in the eyes of one little girl who showed us her very own bed. It was such a simple thing, but for someone that has never had a bed before, it means so much. We brought cake with us today to celebrate a few birthdays of children at the Haiti Deaf Academy. As soon as we brought it out and the aluminum foil was removed, the kids swarmed around the remnants of chocolate icing with such enthusiasm. Everything is a gift for these kids, everything is appreciated and every little thing celebrated.
Today was by far my favorite day; although, it was our last (for now!). This was the opportunity of a lifetime and a week full of inspiration. The people I have worked with, laughed with, and helped change lives with are truly wonderful people with big hearts. Every smile we put on someone’s face this week and every hearing aid fit was made possible by us through the Hear the World Foundation. We are just everyday people trying to make a difference and better these children’s lives in any way we can. These trips are organized by individuals who pursue dreams and fight for their visions. I would recommend this experience to anyone and would jump on the chance to return in a heartbeat.