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Starkey Hearing Foundation celebrates 20 years in El Salvador

August 03, 2017

The Phase 2 mission in San Salvador, El Salvador in May marked two important milestones for Starkey Hearing Foundation. The Foundation celebrated 20 years working in El Salvador with Carla and Fred Rondeau. Furthermore, the team from Starkey Canada returned to the small Central American country for the first time since its very first mission in 2004.

 When Starkey Hearing Foundation held its first mission in El Salvador in 1997, the world was a much different place: Apple was a struggling computer company; Google didn’t have a website; and Facebook was still seven years away. The world was first introduced to Harry Potter and Princess Diana was killed in a car accident in Paris.

 It was also a much different time for Starkey Hearing Foundation. When Carla Rondeau asked for 400 hearing aids, the task seemed daunting, said Foundation co-founder, Tani Austin.

 “The Foundation was testing patients, making the earmolds and making the hearing aids all in one day 20 years ago,” Tani said. “Four hundred hearing aids in one day seemed insurmountable. Back then, the Foundation was seeing 30 – 40 patients a day. They helped us create the model we use today.”

 That first mission in El Salvador ushered in the genesis of the WFA® Community-Based Hearing Health Care Program the Foundation implements around the world today. The simple, sustainable and scalable model enabled the Foundation, Starkey Canada and a cadre of volunteers to serve more than 800 patients a day during the May mission. Many of the people were patients the Foundation fit back in 1997.

 “So many of the people we fit 20 years ago were 6- or 7-years old,” Tani said. “Now they are professionals who can speak and communicate with their families, peers and friends. It is very satisfying and very fulfilling to know that you have contributed to one person’s life like that, let alone on the huge scale we have been able to do in El Salvador.”

 The mission in May was meaningful for members of Starkey Canada, like Kevin McNabb, a hearing instrument specialist from Winnipeg, who participated in his first mission in El Salvador back in 2004.

 “Back in North America and Canada, we tend to take things for granted and we don’t tend to appreciate some things that we have like getting better hearing and things like that,” Kevin said. “You come to a Third World country like this and people don’t have much and you put a hearing aid on them and they never stop smiling for weeks.”

 There is a special bond for Starkey Canada territory manager, Katty Herrera. Katty and her family left El Salvador when she was 2-years-old to escape the tumult in the country during the Salvadoran Civil War in the 1980s. Her family visited once when Katty was a child, but she had not returned in 25 years.

“It has just been wonderful from the minute we arrived,” Katty said. “All of the people I got to see today, it was a huge, huge blessing and I do feel honored and blessed to be here and be able to give back in this way.”

 Carla said Starkey Canada shares a connection with the people of El Salvador because of the history between the team and the Foundation, as well as the relationships fostered with patients.

 “Your first mission always touches your heart. “ Carla said. “Every patient who comes back, there’s always hugging and they’re grateful. We love the Canadians, they are amazing and they have such a passion, such a drive to give. And they give it all. When they come here to the fitting floor, they just give it all. This was a huge mission, a huge challenge. We have never done 800 patients in one day. It is amazing, it is an amazing team.” 

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