“So Lebanon Can Hear,” held May 2012 in Beirut, paired Minnesota-based Starkey Hearing Foundation with Los Angeles-based ALO Cultural Foundation - to supply 2,000 hearing aids to Lebanese desperate for adequate health care.
Each mission to deliver hearing aids begins with preparatory research by the Starkey Hearing Foundation. An initial outreach trip is taken to gather ear impressions, which are sent back to Starkey’s Minnesota headquarters where each aid is customized. Starkey then returns to the country to fit the hearing aids to each person.
Starkey is working increasingly on program sustainability, building a database so patients can receive proper follow-up as they age and needs change.
ALO Cultural Foundation targets Lebanese hearing loss
In Lebanon, a primary component of that follow-up arrived in the ALO Cultural Foundation’s introduction of the ALO Care Benefit Card. Used much like a credit card (sans payments or interest charges), recipients can use the card at area centers for batteries, repairs and rehabilitation. The card is good for one year, and is renewable up to five years.
“Auditory perception is essential to language development and proficiency,” said ALO founder Wafa Kanan. “People with hearing deficits face enormous obstacles in life.” Hearing aids, she added, can cost hundreds of dollars - and an average monthly salary in Lebanon rarely tops $600.
Kanan’s first humanitarian mission in her home country occurred in June, 2007, immediately following the area’s last conflict. She’s since undertaken a dozen-plus missions, and has taken individual children under her wing, flying them to the U.S. for extensive operations and medical care.
ALO’s signature case is Hussein Balhas, a young Lebanese boy with severe abnormalities to his face and body. Balhas received 13 operations, made possible through a partnership with Los Angeles-based Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s International Children's Surgery Fund.
Disability cases are heart-breaking
The ALO Cultural Foundation team, in fact, returned from their spring mission with an unexpected traveling companion – five year old Ali Fakher El Dine.
While pregnant, Ali’s mother was struck by an errant bomb during the 2006 conflict in Beirut. Months after she gave birth to Ali, it was discovered he suffered from a degenerative retinal eye disease that could lead to blindness.
As often happens on her trip, parents of such dire cases seek out Kanan, whose heart – if it could – would hold and then mend her country’s difficult past.
Kanan’s team assembled U.S. medical experts to evaluate Ali – leading to a July 2, 2012 surgery at Shammas Eye Medical Center in Southern California. The operation was a success and Ali’s eyes are now improving. ALO is also following up with Ali’s tutoring and mentoring until doctors render a final assessment.
Read part four next week: Poor, weary and destitute after a long journey
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