When you move to a new place – especially a new place like this! – you are constantly stumbling into new experiences, new places, new people. This month we took part in a project that was outside of our normal areas of involvement with people we had never met before. And it was very cool!
As we have been helping to raise funds for our little deaf friend Gael, we have been searching out contacts within the hearing loss community – doctors, therapists, and other service groups who just might be able to help us. We have been learning and stretching into a whole new world that we really didn’t even know existed. Which led us to meet Enrique and the Lions Club of Puerto Vallarta. They were holding a Hearing Aid benefit in conjunction with the Starkey Hearing Foundation, a charity that was created by Starkey Hearing Technologies and its founder William Austin. Austin is a leader in the Hearing Aid industry who has worked with a number of US Presidents and other celebrities. He now spends his time giving the gift of hearing to those in need. This amazing group has donated hearing aids to people in over 100 countries and its goal is to provide 1 million aids in this decade. This month they were in Mexico and we saw that they needed volunteers for their outreach in Puerto Vallarta. Wanting to know more about this whole area and to meet some people who might have advice for us and for Gael, we offered to help. We literally had no idea what we were volunteering for, but we showed up at 6:30 a.m. as requested, ready to lend a hand.
As we predicted, we were the only volunteers to show up at 6:30. We noticed many Mexicans already lined up at the front door of the convention center, but when our new friend Enrique motioned us to follow him to the volunteer area, we saw we were the only ones there. 2 or 3 more arrived around 7:30, the majority after 8:00. Why am I still surprised and why am I still showing up on time for things? At about 7:40 Enrique’s wife came to us and said, “I am so sorry you are on time”. You and me sister.
But finally, at around 8:30, a bus load of people wearing red T-shirts with the Starkey Foundation logo arrived and the front doors were opened to allow the long line of waiting people in. My job was to work with the hearing specialist at the first point of contact. As people filed in, the red shirted lady looked in each of their ears and indicated to me whether their ears were clean or not. I had to take their application form, check a SI or NO as to clean ears and sign the paper before directing them to take their form and their little white card to the next station where their forms would be inspected. Grant then led them to their next station – the ear washing place or the hearing aid fitting place.
Over the next 4 hours, I marked and signed forms for 400 Mexican people. 800 ears inspected. The youngest was 5. The oldest was 103. All poor. All needing help to hear. All excited to be receiving free hearing aids that day. They came from around the states of Nayarit and Jalisco – from Tepic down to Manzanilla. Some came on buses. Some had other disabilities. It was amazing and beautiful and I was so pleased we had showed up to see this miracle.
As we were about to leave, Enrique’s wife came to us and said, “I would like you to meet Mr. Austin – he is a very important man.” Now at this point, we had no idea who he was. We knew nothing about his company, about his work with Presidents, about his billion-dollar net worth, about his philanthropy around the world. We only knew he was offering free hearing aids to 400 Mexicans and we were happy to meet him and tell him about our small project with Gael. His response was not what we expected. He told us that perhaps he could help Gael with a hearing aid. He said that he had the best hearing aids in the world and just maybe he could help. Just maybe Gael could hear if we brought him to meet him that day. Well you can imagine that we didn’t need to hear more. We phoned our friend Francisco and asked him to track down Gael – we’re coming to get him and bring him here. Just maybe…..
It took around an hour to drive back to Bucerias, pack up Gael and drive back to Puerto Vallarta. The crowd was still large when we returned but Mr. Austin dropped everything to look at Gael. He tried several different aids and Gael sat quietly, curious as he watched all the people in chairs around him putting these strange devices in their ears. He seemed to understand what was happening and was very cooperative. After 30 minutes or so, Mr. Austin said what we had already believed. Hearing Aids will not help Gael. He just doesn’t have enough hearing in either ear to create discernible sound. I admit I shed a tear or two. Even though we were receiving confirmation of what we had already learned, a tiny bit of hope had landed on my heart that afternoon. Perhaps this was the miracle we were hoping for. Instead we were encouraged to stay on the path we were already on. To find a way for this little guy to have the Cochlear Implant surgery. To help him learn sign language so he can begin to communicate while going through the whole process of surgery and speech therapy.
But then, as we turned away and prepared to leave, the miracle arrived after all. It just looked different than I was expecting. As we turned around, a young woman and an older woman were standing behind us. They had been quietly listening. And waiting. I saw the name tag on the younger woman. It said, “Sign Language”. The older woman introduced us to Isabel and told us that she is a sign language teacher. She lives in San Vicente and is willing to do private lessons. Would you like her help?
Well yes. Yes we would. And just like that another piece had fallen into place. Isabel now comes to Manos de Amor 3 days a week to teach Gael, his mom, and one of the Manos caregivers how to sign. We have wanted this for a while but had no clue how to find someone who would come to us. Had we not taken Gael to see Mr. Austin, we never would have found Isabel.
As always, things happened exactly as they were meant to. For Gael and for 400 other Mexicans who now have the Gift of Hearing! Thank you to William Austin and the Starkey Hearing Foundation.