Open Ears is following a group of Sonova team members as they head to Haiti with the Hear The World Foundation. Jenn Brinn is a digital marketer who works at Sonova e-Hearing Care in Nashville, Tennessee. She is passionate about technology, travel, coffee, documentaries, and her family.
Over the years, The Hear the World Foundation has been sending volunteers on dozens of service trips with the mission of providing better access to hearing healthcare to those in need around the globe. Historically, these volunteers have been Sonova employees with a clinical audiology background; after all, the majority of the work on these trips is to fit and recheck hearing aids. Since starting work at Sonova a year-and-a-half ago, I would get the emails asking for volunteers for this or that service trip, but none of the qualification criteria matched my skill set.
In May, I finally got the email I’d been waiting for…the trip to Haiti in October of 2015 needed a communications volunteer. Seeing as my background and interests are in digital marketing and communications, this opportunity was a perfect fit. I applied, and in early July was notified that I was selected to be the first volunteer with a dedicated role of being the trip historian/documentarian. Since I am not an audiologist, I immediately began brainstorming how I could leverage my hobbies (and day job)–which consists of photography, videography, social media, and content creation–to best capture the spirit of the people we were setting out to serve. The answer, I would come to find out, was about to reveal itself to me in a way I wouldn’t have believed if I didn’t experience it for myself.
It began when our plane touched down in Port Au Price around 3 p.m. Sunday. The airport was small and crowded. The baggage claim carousel was chaos–people pulling bags off as quickly as they were released, elbowing one another out of the way, knocking into each other with luggage carts. Once the area cleared, my bag was nowhere to be found. After searching and waiting for over an hour, I surrendered to the fact that my luggage was either taken by mistake or stolen. Not wanting to hold up the team any longer, we loaded up the bus and headed to New Life Children’s Home where we would be staying for the week. I thought, surely in a few hours someone will call saying they had taken my bag by mistake and it would be returned to me. But by 9 p.m., my phone hadn’t rung. It was time to start asking my travel mates to borrow pajamas, a toothbrush, and something to sleep in. In the poorest country in the Americas, the only items I had to my name were the clothes on my back and my camera and computer, which I traveled with in my carry-on backpack. Talk about being out of your comfort zone!
After dinner that night, the team walked around the New Life complex, where just feet from our living quarters, was the orphanage. Hearing the stories of how the children got there and seeing how little they had, my lost luggage was small potatoes. This new-found perspective set the course for the rest of my experience in Haiti. For seven days, I was completely out of control of my situation and had to rely on the generosity and selflessness of the people around me in order to get by, much like the children we would be working with. The night turned into another day with no call regarding my missing bag and another day turned into several days without my personal belongings.
As you’ve read in the other blog posts from the week, our trip consisted of spending several days at the Haiti Deaf Academy to fit and recheck the hearing aids of the children of the school as well as residents of the community. One afternoon we delivered lunch to the students at Anacias’ Capva School in Cite Soleil (aka: the slums of Port Au Prince). We also visited the Respire Haiti Christian School where we screened many restaveks, orphans, and vulnerable children for signs of hearing loss. From Creole, to English, to American Sign Language, in every community we visited, one thing was undeniably clear: love transcended language. I will never forget the moment we opened the door of the vans on the first day we pulled up to the Haiti Deaf Academy. All the children wanted was to be held or hugged, to hold your hand or sit in your lap. Yes, we were technically there to address their hearing loss, but in the bigger picture, we were ultimately there to bring love.
Here we are shortly after getting out of the van:
Not having a professional background in audiology, I was unsure how useful I would be during the days on-site with the kids. After six days of being without any of my belongings due to the lost luggage, it became clear that my contribution to the mission was to experience (on a very small scale) what it is like to live as these students do–void in material objects, but abundant in happiness. To be immersed in the world of people and children who don’t know their names, birthdays, or can even speak the word “suitcase,” is the ultimate reminder to be grateful for what we do have: love, family, and each other. I walked in to each day’s work with a grin from ear to ear. If you have nothing else, you can always give a smile.
Four acres of land have been purchased in Leveque to build a dedicated school and residential facility for the children of the Haiti Deaf Academy. Before breaking ground, a concrete wall must be built around the perimeter of the lot in order to keep the children and staff safe. After only witnessing only a small portion of the under-served in Haiti, I now know that there are infinite ways that those of us who have the means to can help. Getting this wall funded and built is to literally construct the building blocks for new beginnings—building hope and a future for this next generation. Education is the only way out of poverty, and these kids deserve a place of comfort, security, and guidance to have a shot at making a sustainable life for themselves. If this is a mission that you can stand behind, please consider making a donation to the Haiti Deaf Academy.
What I will remember most about Haiti is the ironic juxtaposition of extremes. Children living in devastating poverty, yet happier than any kid I’ve met in the US. An island of exotic beaches and mountains, yet barely has inhabitable housing. A country faced with violence and corruption, but natives with the kindest of souls. When I arrived in Haiti, I was told that nothing “makes sense” by our conventional standards–in any scenario. Haiti defies understanding. Haiti is unbelievable.
At lunch today, I wasn’t surprised when I opened up my fortune cookie to find this gentle reminder. The universe is always speaking to us. We just have to be open to listening. Be kind to each other. Take care of one another. Love deeply and give without expectation of receiving anything in return. You will find that in helping others, you will be the one receiving the greatest gift of all. Be the change you wish to see in your world, even if it starts with just a smile.