John Bachman’s memories of Kenya are not of armed security guards posted everywhere, but of enormous circus tents, filled to the brim with hundreds of children and adults waiting to be fitted for hearing aids.
Bachman, owner of Oklahoma City-based Economy Hearing, visited Africa on a recent mission trip as a supporter of The Starkey Hearing Foundation. The Starkey Hearing Foundation travels across the world, fitting children and adults in areas that often do not have access to hearing care. Their mission is simple: Fitting people in-need with hearing aids “so the world may hear.”
As supporters of the Starkey Hearing Foundation, Economy Hearing donates a portion of the sales from every hearing aid. However, their support of the foundation goes beyond money.
“We have sponsored mission trips to Africa, as well as Honduras,” said Bachman. “What happens is that we sponsor the trip, and often fly there ourselves to help fit the hearing aids.”
His trip to Kenya was one such experience.
“It’s so difficult to describe unless you’ve experienced it first-hand,” Bachman said of the experience. “Even the smallest things that we take for granted here, the people living there don’t have that luxury.”
His arrival in Kenya came shortly after a violent mall takeover in Nairobi.
Despite the recent turmoil, however, what he remembers most clearly are those giant circus tents, packed with up to 400 people at a time – all waiting to be fitted for hearing aids.
In a tent filled with hundreds, many of them children, one would expect lots of chatter. Bachman noticed that the opposite was true.
“There were all these kids there, but it was so quiet – because nobody talks,” he said.
Many of the hearing-impaired there do not communicate verbally, he said. So it is not unusual to see most children signing back and forth with each other and with the adults.
However, not only deaf children receive assistance. Hearing aids are rated on a scale of 1-10; the higher the number, the more severe the hearing loss. Bachman was surprised to find that the majority of hearing aids fitted were lower-tier hearing devices.
Additionally, not all of those fitted for hearing aids were children. Bachman and the other mission workers fit hearing aids on people ranging in age from five to 22 years old. Many live in homes, dropped off by their parents and left to stay until they age out of the system.
But an environmental factor in Africa poses a threat to both children and adults. Malaria can be a hidden danger to hearing. A serious disease, malaria can afflict individuals and hurt their hearing – but the medication many there take for malaria itself damages the ears.
So children and adults alike had flocked to the tent, waiting for help.
“It was interesting… once we would fit the hearing aids, we would tell the adults, ‘Talk to them!’ And the adults would immediately start signing. And we would say, ‘No, no, actually talk to them!’” he said.
By the end of the day, a tent of hundreds that had been quiet was abuzz, as children and adults able to hear for the first time, talked to one another. More than 11,000 were fitted with hearing aids during that single trip, mostly children.
“Afterwards, you can’t hear yourself think,” Bachman said.
Many of those fit with hearing aids have since gone on to college and now live successful lives, Bachman said. By giving them the ability to hear, Bachman and his fellow mission workers gave these groups the ability to communicate again. Opening this new world to children and adults alike can be an emotional experience.
“It’s overwhelming, the look on their faces,” he said. “You can’t buy that experience; it makes you extremely grateful for where you are and everything you have in life. There were lots of tears.”
Bachman is a strong supporter of these mission trips and Economy Hearing was also a strong supporter of the Serge Ibaka Foundation, which helps people in the former Thunder basketball player’s native Congo.
Bachman said they have already pre-sponsored a mission trip to the Philippines, and that he hopes to go back to Africa, as well as one day visit China and India on a mission.
He will continue to support these missions and go on them, he said, because so many lives are forever changed with one simple act – including his own.
“I’m not sure it doesn’t have as much of an impact on me, personally,” he said. “It truly is the most incredible, life-changing thing.”
For more information about The Starkey Foundation and their missions, visit www.
Source: News OK
Image credit: The Starkey Foundation
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