By Joe Loney, Maryknoll Lay Missioners, Bolivia
COCHABAMBA, Bolivia — When I was in grade school, I recall that the three Rs were reading, (w)riting and (a)rithmetic. When my children were in grade school, they taught me that the three Rs were reduce, reuse and recycle. Today we use all six Rs to bring hearing to children with disabilities.
Maryknoll Lay Missioner Filomena (Filo) Siles and I are part of a mission team that helps children and adults reach their full human potential and to be truly included in society, notwithstanding their physical, hearing, vision, mental and multiple disabilities. Working in two rural municipalities in Cochabamba, Bolivia, we continue to be amazed at the great number of children and adults who daily struggle to hear and often cannot speak.
Some of the persons with whom we collaborate have remnants of hearing and could greatly benefit from hearing aids. Unfortunately, hearing aids are far too expensive for the families who are often subsistence farmers with daily incomes of less than two dollars per day.
One day Filo and I were wondering how we could acquire the financial resources to help those with hearing disability and the arithmetic told us that, at more than $1,000 per child, we simply did not have the funds to help out the numerous children and adults with hearing disabilities.
Doña Santusa´s son David has a hearing disability and is an example of this compelling need. David is a bright, 6-year-old boy, who is just a kindergartner. He is friendly, warmly hugs everyone he meets and loves to draw. At a very early age, Doña Santusa detected that her son David could not hear sounds like other children. One objective of our ministry is to coordinate specialized medical attention to those like David who neither have access to it in their rural communities nor can afford the service. Our hearing specialists in the City of Cochabamba advised us that David has the ability to hear, albeit substantially reduced, and that he could greatly benefit from using a hearing aid.
The Holy Spirit must have descended upon our office because Filo suddenly stated that Maryknoll Sister Joan Murray had given her a winter coat and gloves to survive the November and December weather….and that the coat and gloves were reused, as the Maryknoll Sister who previously wore them had gone on to heaven, where the cold of New York was just a distant memory. I wondered to myself how Sister Joan´s generosity could assist us.
During her orientation to mission life before joining Maryknoll Lay Missioners, Filo met many members of the greater Maryknoll Family. One of the members Filo met was Maryknoll Sister Joan Murray. Having served in Filo´s native Bolivia for many years, Sister Joan graciously guided Filo during the orientation process and they became good friends. Sister Joan shared with Filo that as part of her current ministry she assists many of the retired Maryknoll Sisters so that they can enjoy a dignified life.
Filo wondered aloud if Sister Joan knew of any Maryknoll Sisters who might have utilized hearing aids on earth and were now smiling upon us from heaven.
Following up Filo’s recollection about the generosity of the Maryknoll Sisters and their nursing home, I promptly inquired by writing to Sister Joan, and she quickly responded that she had three pairs of hearing aids which were suitable for reuse. The mission bridge from New York to Cochabamba was strengthened by Irene King, director of mission services for Maryknoll Lay Missioners, who was travelling the next week to Bolivia and graciously agreed to bring the reusable hearing aids to Bolivia.
Soon we found a hearing specialist who adapted one of the gently used, reusable hearing aids to meet David´s needs. He immediately learned to say “Mama.” Tears of joy flowed. Our prayers were answered. Collaboration made the difference. The arithmetic puzzle we could not solve, the writing we did to Sister Joan and the reuse we discovered for the hearing aids have become a miracle for David and his mother, Doña Santusa. We have two other young children scheduled to be fitted for the remaining pairs of hearing aids in the coming weeks.
In our ministry, we have met more than 30 children and adults who could benefit from hearing aids. If you know of someone who no longer needs a hearing aid, please consider helping us to give the gift of hearing and contact Maryknoll Lay Missioners.