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Direct Access to Hearing Care at Village Level

February 07, 2018

The beauty of the Vanuatu Islands stretches far beyond the acres of coconut trees and white sand beaches that meet the crystal-clear waters of the South Pacific Ocean. It’s the people and the Melanesian culture that make Vanuatu truly beautiful.

Starkey Hearing Foundation, with the help of volunteers from Starkey Australia, served about 1,000 patients on the islands of Efate and Espiritu Santo. We met young children, great grandmothers and a tribal chief. We wore traditional lava-lavas and celebrated with local dancers. We worked under magnificent mango trees that provided delicious snacks.

Vanuatu Minister of Health Jerome Luovaune visited the first mission site in the capital city of Port Vila and helped Foundation co-founder Tani Austin fit 10-year-old Willie Mien.

“This is a very good type of service that can help many, many people,” Luovaune said. “I felt very deeply touched watching this young boy who couldn’t hear for a long time. He had a big smile on his face and it was a big surprise.”

While young Willie was born with a hearing loss, old age contributed to David Kalorib’s hearing problems. Kalorib is the Deputy Parliamentary Chief of Port Vila and has had difficulty communicating for the past 10 years. He said hearing loss had made his role as chief difficult as people rely on him to resolve disputes.

“I am so grateful,” he said. “I am excited to hear people talk clearly again. I have to ask people so many times to repeat, repeat, repeat. It is very frustrating for everyone. But now I can hear them.”

After a few days in Port Vila, the regional team moved to Luganville on Espiritu Santo, the largest of the islands in Vanuatu. The site was set up under giant mango trees that local team members climbed to reach the ripe fruit.

One of the most memorable patients of the day was Brandon Roy, 14, who was born with a hearing loss. Specialists and doctors told Brandon’s family that he would never hear. But his grandmother, Debbie Roy, was optimistic that Brandon would hear one day because he developed more slowly than his peers. She said Brandon did not walk until he was 2-years-old. He is currently learning sign language through home study but Debbie Roy would like him to attend a regular school.

“I am very grateful and appreciate the help you have given my family,” Debbie Roy said. “I always thought my grandson would hear, but I thought it would take a very long time. I didn’t think it would happen so soon. This is a very big thing for my family.”  

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