The child has not been able to speak because she is hearing impaired.
Her brother was fitted for his first hearing aid in 2009 by the Auburn University Outreach Audiology Program.
His mother was concerned that his sister was also hearing impaired.
“It’s so striking to me because hearing the first word of a 3-year-old is not something we experience here in the United States,” said Dr. Kelli Watt, Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Communication Disorders.
The program traveled to Guatemala for the fourth year in a row to continue helping Guatemalans develop their own hearing, screening and treatment program.
From April 30 to May 5, professors and students worked toward their overall goals of sustainability and transfer of expertise.
Through the audiology program, impoverished and inner-city children who would have otherwise never had their hearing screened can be fitted for hearing aids.
During the first year of the program, participants trained the Guatemalans to be able to do their own screenings.
The program was made possible by a grant from the University Outreach Program, a donation from the hearing aid company, GN ReSound and an endowment from The Holy Trinity Church for the necessary audiometer.
The project has also expanded to allow remote testing at Auburn University that can be performed throughout the year.
Guatemala City provides safe transportation for the students to and from the elementary schools.
Police were stationed outside the city’s 17th-century buildings with barred windows.
“The area is not particularly safe, as Guatemala is situated in the middle of the drug trail. The United States is a consumer so we have a real responsibility for the danger in that country,” said Dr. Sandra Clark-Lewis, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Communication Disorders.
“People in this country are buying the drugs that are traveling through that country, so in that way it’s not just like all of the countries in Central America are pretty dangerous.”
Language is not a barrier, as the Foreign Language Department provides a translator, and Guatemala provides additional translators.
Caroline Eady, first year audiology doctoral student, has taken Spanish at Auburn.
She said the trip made her want to learn more about the language, however Watts said sometimes language isn’t always an issue with children, and that simple gestures work just as well as speech.
Clark-Lewis said the biggest challenge to the program is sustainability.
“The most exciting part for me was seeing the personnel in the schools who had really done a good job in their screening the kids that they needed to screen,” Clark-Lewis said, “…they were really motivated to get those kids in for follow up. That thrills me in terms of really wanting the people that work in those schools to take this on as their own.”
Eady said one of her favorite memories was at the school in Los Patitos, Guatemala, where the mother of a third-grade-student reported that her son was excelling in school after being fitted with his hearing aids in 2009.
Eady said the boy was in a special classroom for hearing impaired before he received his hearing aids, but is now in a normal classroom making all As.
“He has just grown and flourished,” Eady said.