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Building a future for Chahama

Sonova employee engagement in Lebanon

Almost 1.5 million Syrian refugees now live in Lebanon, often without access to healthcare. To help children with hearing loss, the Hear the World Foundation donated hearing aids for 100 Lebanese and Syrian young people in 2017. For some of these youngsters, this has meant being able to hear for the first time in their lives.

Her house in Syria was big and beautiful, remembers Chahama – but then the war came, bringing fear and destruction, and they had to flee. The ten-year-old now lives in Lebanon with her parents and three younger siblings. Having escaped the war, the family were left with a difficult predicament; refugees are not allowed to work in Lebanon, and they don’t receive any state aid. The parents were desperate; how were they supposed to find the right support for a ten-year-old girl with hearing loss in such circumstances? What kind of future would their daughter face?

It was sheer chance that brought hope back into their lives. Chahama was playing in a public park near Beirut with her three younger siblings when the children were spotted by a member of staff from the IRAP (Institut de Rééducation Audio-Phonétique) school for children affected by hearing loss, who then spoke to the school principal. “A teacher asked me if the girl could come to our school and I agreed,” says principal Nicole Helou. “So Chahama came to us, and her parents were overjoyed that their daughter was in good hands and could receive an education. Thanks to Hear the World, she now wears two new hearing aids – we are thrilled, as is Chahama’s family.”

 

So Chahama came to us, and her parents were overjoyed that their daughter was in good hands and could receive an education. Thanks to Hear the World, she now wears two new hearing aids – we are thrilled, as is Chahama’s family.

Nicole Helou, Principal IRAP (Institut de Rééducation Audio-Phonétique)

 

Lebanon has already admitted almost 1.5 million Syrian refugees; most of these are dependent on humanitarian aid to get through their daily lives, and medical care is not always guaranteed – with audiological support even rarer. Many refugee children have lost their hearing in bombing raids and many are suffering from untreated infections. Poor hygiene can also cause hearing loss, with grave consequences for children; being able to hear is important for language development, and learning to speak is in turn critical for an adult to have any chance of leading a self-reliant life.

There are schools for children with hearing loss in Lebanon, but these are severely underfunded, with speech therapy either neglected or overlooked entirely. According to a report from the Human Rights Watch organization, many institutions also require additional payment from parents. The Hear the World Foundation’s HearLebanon project is bringing hope by providing cutting-edge hearing solutions for a hundred children affected by hearing loss.

 

Hani Houri, the CEO of Houri Hearing: “Many of the refugee children have no access to basic medical care – and absolutely no audiological support.”

Hani Houri, the CEO of Houri Hearing: “Many of the refugee children have no access to basic medical care – and absolutely no audiological support.”

The project’s partner in Lebanon is Hani Houri. The CEO of the Houri Hearing audiological company considers it his social duty to help. “Because of the war, a huge number of Syrian refugees have come to Lebanon over the last five years. Among these, there are many children who have no access to basic medical care – and absolutely no audiological support,” he explains. “To enable these children to hear properly, we have launched this project in cooperation with the Hear the World Foundation.”

At the end of 2017, the Hear the World Foundation sent a team of volunteer aid workers to Lebanon consisting of Sonova employees from Belgium, Germany, Italy, the UK, the USA and Jordan. The first item on the specialists’ agenda was to carry out a hearing test for every child, as many of the youngsters still have residual hearing – such as seven-year-old Isra, whose family fled to Lebanon from the city of Aleppo. A sound has to be very loud for the little girl to hear it at all, however.

The tests are set up as games. Isra holds a plastic banana to her ear and throws it into a basket as soon as she hears one of the loud beeps played through the loudspeakers. The Sonova experts then take casts from which their local partner, Houri Hearing, will be able to create the earmolds. Each child receives an individually crafted hearing aid three weeks later. If a hearing aid should malfunction, the families can get in touch with a branch of Houri Hearing – aid is sustainable only when after-care is guaranteed.

Nicole Helou, head of the IRAP school for children affected by hearing loss in Beirut: “Thanks to Hear the World, Chahama now wears two new hearing aids – we are thrilled, as is Chahama’s family.”

Nicole Helou, head of the IRAP school for children affected by hearing loss in Beirut: “Thanks to Hear the World, Chahama now wears two new hearing aids – we are thrilled, as is Chahama’s family.”

“The visit was really emotional, I can hardly express it in words,” remembers Sally Arafat, who normally works for Sonova in Jordan and who flew to Lebanon as a volunteer aid worker for the Hear the World project. “These innocent children became the victims of bombing raids carried out during the war in Syria. It’s so sad – the parents have told us about the bombs that would explode while their children were sleeping and how the young ones wouldn’t speak for a month afterwards. They were in a state of shock, and the parents realized only later that their children could no longer hear.” Hear the World’s project is creating real opportunities for these children – including Chahama.

Wreathed in smiles, the little girl sits next to her father on a couch in the living room. “I have got new hearing aids and I’m happy,” she says in a rather quiet voice that is nonetheless easy to understand. Her father is pleased, saying he has noticed that Chahama is feeling better. “When I was driving her to school and I asked her if she could hear me, and she replied ‘yes’. We were sitting next to each other, talking, and she could hear every word I said.”
Chahama has already got a future career in mind: teaching children with hearing loss.

 

Circus Workshop

Circus workshop with Jason Bruegger

April 2018 in Beirut, Lebanon: at the invitation of Sonova, circus artist Jason Brügger visited an aid project organized by the Hear the World Foundation.

After suffering a severe inner-ear infection, he was afraid his circus career might be over. However, with the help of hearing aids from Sonova brand Phonak, Jason Brügger managed to put this chapter behind him. In an award-winning film, 25-year-old Brügger tells his moving story.

Spellbound, Syrian and Lebanese children watch the short film about his life at the IRAP (Institut de Rééducation Audio-Phonétique) school for children affected by hearing loss.

Jason Brügger is supporting the children’s development on site with a circus workshop: inspired by his story, the kids learn to improve their balance through acrobatic exercises and proudly strut their stuff in front of their parents.

 

 

 

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