Dominican Republic 2019
Oxbridge Academy partnered with the Starkey Hearing Foundation to travel to the Dominican Republic to give the gift of hearing to those in need. Over the course of five days, students were trained and then provided hearing devices and custom hearing aids to patients in the community. Accompanying the students on the trip were Kate Kilian, Michael D'Egidio, and Anne Reilly.
- June 9: Reflections by Sophia Lloyd George
- June 8: Heading Home by Matt McVey and Logan Maharaj
- June 7: Discovering Santo Domingo by Keyanah Alexis & Christina Cordell
- June 6: The Power of Sound by Beatriz Amorim & Ayani Duverger
- June 5: Changing Lives by Sophia Arlosoroff and Kayla Brusie
- June 4: Welcome by Shirah Benarde & Audrey Lee
Upon initially arriving in the Dominican Republic and attending our first training session, we were excited, but it was not until we met the amazing individuals who we were to fit with hearing aids that we became exuberant about the opportunity to give the gift of hearing. Despite our differing cultural and linguistic backgrounds, we experienced real human connection.
Over the course of two days, we learned about the lives of each of our patients: we laughed and danced to 'Despacito' with a little boy; we smiled as Carlos, who had been hearing impaired for over 30 years, embraced his wife in the most profound joy, and we cried as a little girl was able to hear her mother’s voice for the first time.
From the time we are young, we are taught about the five senses, a seemingly intrinsic aspect of the way in we perceive the world. However, because our senses are so innate, it is often difficult for us to comprehend how fundamental and influential each one is. Through the Starkey mission trip, I truly believe we gained a greater appreciation of not only our own hearing, but also a deeper gratitude for the value of our Oxbridge education, families, and all the opportunities given to us in the U.S. On the morning of our first mission day, we all gathered in a circle, listening as Starkey founder Bill Austin expressed, “It was a beautiful day.” I truly cannot describe how beautiful our two days of service were. I know that the individuals that we met will now hear the words “I love you” and experience the beauty of sound and life in its entirety.
Anne Frank said, “It is wonderful that no one need wait a single moment before staring to improve the world,” and I believe our mission trip experience impeccably encompasses these words. The trip was a remarkable and inspiring experience, allowing us to not only change the lives of the people of Santo Domingo, but also our own perspectives on our capacity to benefit our own community, whether through simple acts of kindness or more comprehensive service efforts. Thank you to our amazing chaperones, Ms. Kilian, Mr. D’Egidio, and Dr. Reilly, and the Starkey Hearing Foundation for the absolutely amazing opportunity to give the gift of hearing! So the Dominican Republic may hear, so the world may hear.
Today we are departing the Dominican Republic in bittersweet fashion. While we are happy to go home to our families, we are sad that this invaluable experience is coming to an end. We’ve learned so much about the amazing human beings that help make up our global human family. We’ve learned that no matter how far away you live from someone, there is so much to be shared and enjoy together. Starkey Hearing Foundation taught us that no matter where you live, you can always help and give something back to the community whether small or large. And there is no donation more valuable than our time. In the words of Bill Austin, “No matter where you are in life, you can always make more money, but you can never make more time. Time is invaluable.”
I will never forget the amazing work we did and I have been so inspired to give back to the community. Although we went to the Dominican Republic on a mission to changes others lives, our lives have been changed more than we ever would have imagined. This trip has taught us that there is beauty in everything, and we take so much for granted. It has showed me that my problems are so small in comparison to those of the people in places like the Dominican Republic. With this in the back of my head I will look at the world differently from now on, and with a happier and more grateful perspective. Thank you Bill and Tani Austin for changing our lives. We will forever be in debt to you for this and plan to pay you back through passing it on to anyone that we can affect.
Today is our final day in the Dominican Republic, and we spent it touring the historical district of Santo Domingo. One of our favorite historical lessons of the day was discovering that our hotel the Nicolás de Ovando Hotel was originally a fort built in 1502. It is located in the Colonial City of Santo Domingo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This historical district has buildings preserved from when the Spanish settlers first arrived in the new world.
We began the day with a walking tour around the district and visited churches, museums, and the first hospital of the new world. Our favorite was the Alcázar de Colón, which translates to The Palace of Columbus. The architecture and the furniture was gorgeous: There were many arched doorways, high, beamed ceilings, and coral stone. In each room offered a view overlooking the port or the plaza. Some of the objects in these rooms were quite interesting, be it in their age or the way they were made. Everyone especially enjoyed a trunk that was located at the foot of a bed in one of the rooms because it was made of elephant skin. Even in the Dominican Republic, everyone loves a nice pun. Later in the day, we toured ‘Los Tres Ojos’ (The Three Eyes), three caverns with beautiful, clear blue waters. This was our first time in caves like this, and we were definitely blown away.
Experiencing the tours after the mission days was especially rewarding. We had spent our first days talking to families about their lives in the Dominican Republic. The mission days allowed us to have a greater appreciation for hearing the information and history associated with the tours we experienced.
Today was our second and last day of fitting patients! We woke up bright and early, excited and confident from yesterday. After seeing how much change we made and how amazing the service was, we were eager to do more work. No matter how exhausted everyone was we all had smiles on our faces. Once again we had a huge variation of patients: We saw people of different ages, cultures and experiences. It was so exciting to hear stories from everyone we met. For example, an older man told us the story of how he lost his hearing. A couple of years earlier a burglar came into his house and threw a rock at him! Something that really surprised me was how he was able to recount his traumatizing experiences and still be so grateful that he got this opportunity to get his hearing back.
An exciting part of the day was when numerous kids came from a deaf school in Santo Domingo. They spoke in sign language and, I used my ASL skills from Oxbridge, I was able to communicate with them! One experience I’ll never forget was a 7 year old girl with profound hearing loss. She could not hear one bit and barely spoke. After fitting her hearing aids, her eyes light up and she looked at her mom with pure joy. It was a beautiful moment. There was another little boy who was 3 years old, and the moment both of his hearing aids were turned on, he began laughing and singing to his mom. It was beyond touching to see these people regain their hearing and to know we helped them with that life-changing experience.
Today was our first day fitting patients with hearing aids. The patients came from all over: We had people who had been up since 4 a.m., people who had traveled days and some people who lived close by.
One of our favorite patients was a little girl, around 9 years old. Her hearing loss was genetic, so she has lived a life of isolation, apart from her family. She had never heard her own voice clearly, until June 4th. We fit her with her own special aids, for the severity of her hearing loss. It took patience and trial and error, but when we found the perfect fit, her face lit up. Her brother, who had also just got fit, came over to celebrate, exuberant with the sound of his own voice. We got to be a part of her first time hearing music. To celebrate, we had a dance party to “I Can’t Stop This Feeling!” by Justin Timberlake. Her mother was crying tears of joy; her children’s lives are forever changed. Today, we gave that little girl more than just hearing; we gave her connection. She can now communicate with her family and be a part of her community; both experiences have been difficult without hearing. We gave her something much bigger than the hearing aid sitting behind her ear. We provided her a completely new way of life.
We also help fit a lieutenant of the Dominican Republic’s army. He had a tight schedule and had to return to duty so we had to squeeze him in. At first sight, we were quite intimidated: He was around 6’4, buff, and dressed in his army uniform. He sat down in our chair, eager to be fit. He lost his hearing due to noise from gunshots and bombs. The thing that stuck out about this patient was that he was not only physically bigger than us, but he held a higher power than we do. Yet we were able to change his life.
These moments make us so excited for these next few days. Thank you to everyone for this life-changing trip!
Today we began the trip we had all been waiting for. Although the day began with a 1:30 a.m. wake up call, overall the travel day was easy, quick and exciting. We received a warm welcome at the hotel including a plethora of juices and a delicious breakfast.
After lunch, we walked the streets of the main stretch of Santo Domingo. We wrapped up our day with a fitter training session for the hearing aids in order to prepare for tomorrow’s endeavors. This was very exciting and made it all feel real. We were lucky enough to meet and listen to Will and Tani Austin, the founders of Starkey Hearing Foundation tell their stories during our training. This moment had a lasting impact on all of us as we got to hear firsthand how passionate the Austin’s and their team are to help the world hear. Tani said, “The ear is the road to the heart.” Meaning that hearing is not just noise; it is getting to feel something more. Listening to many of the staff members' stories and personal connections made us become even more eager to begin this life-changing experience. As we ended our practice, we enjoyed a delicious dinner and birthday cake for the Starkey photographer accompanying us. It was the perfect end to a long day!