This October, Jason Horowitz, manager of national sales for NuEar, (a Starkey Hearing Technologies brand) joined Starkey Hearing Foundation for its Ethiopia hearing mission. It was Jason's first time attending a mission so Foundation co-founder Tani Austin suggested he take a little time each day to journal his experience providing the gift of hearing. After arriving home and sharing his journal, Jason said, "I always knew what we did was special, but now I really KNOW!"
We're excited to share the second part of Jason's hearing mission journal with you. If you missed the first entry, you can read it here.
Friday, October 3
We arrived at the mission site, a school, which was another excellent venue for our purpose. We had quite a bit of preparation work to do, as the tents were placed too closely to the school. They had to be moved to another section of the property, as school was in session and the classrooms were filled with loud children. The classrooms were open rooms built with cinder block. Some of the windows were broken and the floors in less than ideal shape. That said, the children were dressed in tidy school uniforms (green vests and red slacks/shorts). My co-worker Derek and I took it upon ourselves to visit a few classrooms by poking our heads in. The teachers waved us in and you would have thought we were celebrities. The children circled around us and shook our hands and touched us. Derek is 6’6” and in this country he seems like a giant. The children marveled at his height. I did a handstand and pirouetted a few times and again, they went crazy. Derek and I could barely contain our laughter and incredulity.
After our classroom visit, we unloaded chairs and tables and set up the fitting area by laying out earmolds, tools, clipboards and of course, the aids themselves. It takes several hours to get everything ready.
Each day, Bill leads us in a short speech and team cheer that inspires us to do our best work and get our minds focused on why we are there in the first place. The cheer has us put our hands in the center of a circle and shout, “Starkey – Ethiopia – Mekele – Team!” It also shares our appreciation of the patients, who are within earshot, many of whom have traveled long distances to get here.
As far as the fittings went I shadowed Eric all day to bolster my experience through observation per Tani’s suggestion. The fitting process itself is brilliant in its simplicity. However, fitting people well, with the challenges of hearing loss and language barriers, is quite difficult indeed. Several of the people I fit on my own in Axum came back to the fitting area for a re-fit or adjustment. If there was a way to screw up a fitting…I found it. I over fit, under fit, misfit, cut tubes too short, mixed case sizes, battery sizes...you name it. I think this is why Tani had me observe today and I was grateful for it. Each time a patient comes back, the name of the fitter is on the top of the paperwork. It’s not there for punitive measures, rather, it is there to help Bill and Tani identify patterns and help new people, like myself, to improve their knowledge and abilities. Still, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that my stomach tied up in a knot when I saw a patient I fit come back to the station. I didn’t have that anxiety because I feared criticism; rather, you find yourself becoming passionate about wanting to do a good job for the patient. Tani consoles, counsels and coaches you, all in a few sentences, and all is right with the world again.
On the other hand, there are many times when a fitting goes exceptionally well and you see a person light up like a jolt of electricity shot through their bodies. It starts with the eyes, and travels to their mouths in the form of a smile. Their bodies stiffen, their eyes widen and they start to repeat what you are saying. Even patients with deaf speech who are using sign language became verbal. There is no other feeling like it in the world.
We concluded our fitting day and made our way back to the hotel where the entire team had dinner. The food and service were excellent and friendships with my colleagues were emerging. You feel such a sense of teamwork and camaraderie with the people you work with side-by-side. We are brothers and sisters in arms, if you will. We endure the physical and emotional hardships together and rejoice in the joys of contributing to our mission of helping the world to hear. The evening was highlighted, for me personally, with the presentation of a Hearing Angel necklace from Bill. He sneaks up behind you and drapes it around your neck as your colleagues burst into applause to show appreciation of your efforts. Bill took my hand and delivered a message to me that I’ll never forget. His passion for teamwork, compassion for humanity and appreciation for life are more present in him than any other person I’ve ever met. I’m proud of the work he and Tani do, and proud to work for them.