Over the past 4 years, members of the Centers for Hearing Care and Rotarians from District 6650 have established a hearing mission to the Common Wealth of Dominica. This trip began in 2011 when Dr. Sheryl Figliano of the Centers for Hearing Care came in contact with Dr. Susan Kelly, professor at Ross Medical University in Dominica. They connected through a common passion of helping people. They reached out to Marvlyn Birmingham, President of the Rotary Club of Dominica at that time, to join in their efforts. We continue to work with Rotary for trips to Dominica as well as Hearing Missions Foundation which is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit affiliate of Centers for Hearing Care.
Prior to our arrival there was limited access to hearing services on the island. Our first visit to the island, we tested over 500 children and adults and fit well over 200 individuals within one week! As the team continues this annual mission, more islanders have become aware of the program and are informed ahead of time when we are coming so they know which clinic we will serve on which days. Each day we move to a different part of the island.
Clinic is started around 8am and continues until each person is seen. Sometimes our day doesn’t end until 9 :00 in the evening. By the time we arrive, a line has already formed of individuals awaiting services. Some must begin their morning at 5am and travel hours to make it to our location. Our team is then divided into groups and a triage team starts sending individuals to the appropriate station. The services we provide are hearing tests, ear cleaning, fitting of amplification and repairing hearing aids for those we have fit during missions in previous years.
Children are immediately pulled to the front of the line and are always seen first. It is very important to us to fit each child with hearing impairment with 2 hearing aids. The younger an individual is fit with the hearing aid the better their brain will adapt to the incoming sound and make sense of it. The longer a child goes with undetected hearing loss, the farther behind they fall in school and the less likely they are to catch up to their peers. In order for children to learn, they need to hear lectures, participate in conversations to learn social skills, and connect with their family members.
What makes our program successful is establishing sustainability. Since the beginning we have been training individuals on the island, chosen by their government, to work with our patients after we have departed for the U.S. Shirlina, our main technician, is able to service their hearing aids, hand out batteries, and contact us when more supplies are needed. When an individual is fit, they are given Shirlina’s contact information for help. Without sustainability, our program would be short-lived. If a hearing aid were to break, that patient would have to wait until our team returned the following year and would be without proper amplification. Having a contact on the island allows us to send them batteries when needed. For the island, a hearing aid battery can cost up to $10. With minimum wage so low, it is hard on families to purchase batteries which can leave a child without amplification during the school year.
At the end of the trip the audiology team attends Ross Medical University, a medical school on the island. There, the medical students are taught about the auditory system by both a lecture and hands-on clinic.
Our mission to give the gift of hearing to the islanders of Dominica is continually growing. Now, thanks to generous donations, the island has multiple audiometers and a screening program is being implemented in some of the schools. Considering no hearing serviced were provided prior to our arrival, this is a large step. We continue to go establish sustainability and to help the hearing program grow.
Participating in a mission trip is a humbling experience. Giving the gift of hearing to someone who could not otherwise have access is rewarding. We have seen mothers watch their children as they hear them for the first time, taught others to say their first word as they now hear their own voice. We have given children the opportunity to succeed in school and adults the ability to participate in conversation again.
Written by: Dr. Elizabeth Shobel
(Hearing Missions Foundation Volunteer and Board Member)