March 2014

Loss of Hearing: Measures Must be Taken

Bolivia has more than 22,640 deaf people, according to the World Federation of the Deaf. However, there has been little practical application or implementation of measures done to protect their rights. In 2009 a hope appeared: La Asociación de Padres y Amigos de Niños, (“APANH”) was founded in Cochabamba by parents who wanted to make the life of their deaf children better.

By: Clotilde Leguevaques
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Angers, France

Photo: Clotilde Leguevaques

Little by little APANH is becoming a stronger association. At the beginning, the association only had 20 members. The next year, in 2010, another 12 people joined.Today, 107 friends, parents, and hearing impaired have unified to improve the quality of life of deaf people in Cochabamba. They have several objectives and actions to achieve their goal.

Members of APANH try to make the disability, being deaf, more known. Ximena Noya is a coordinator for this association. She regrets that “deaf people have the feeling of being invisible because their handicap is not notable.” In order to make people understand this reality, APANH conducts various activities. They meet people at festivals, schools, and events organized by the city. The presence of APANH in these places is a way to answer questions and to create conversations that provide an increasing knowledge about hearing loss. They will also organize the first regional hearing health day in November next year. Professionals from the field of medicine will get together to share the evolution of the disability of being deaf. Gynecologists, pediatricians, and specialists will learn how to react to different symptoms. People are also invited to join lectures to prevent hearing loss, which can happen to everyone. All these actions are a way to change the attitude and thinking about hearing loss. If the population is informed, they can change their behavior towards the deaf or hard-of-hearing and will make the life of the deaf or hard-of-hearing easier. For example, it is essential to be clear, understanding, and patient with them.

The main aim of APANH is to help deaf or hard-of-hearing people by trying to make them feel pleased with their lives. Ximena insists, “Deaf people have to find their own identity.” Many classes, therapies, and activities take place in the association to support the children and their parents. “It’s important to develop self confidence and self-esteem,” remarks Joachim, who learned a lot since he became a member of APANH. They learn how to improve their communication skills thanks to sign language classes.

The association is a place where disabled people can help each other and share their own experiences. “It was really difficult for me because my parents did not understand me,” relates Carla Miranda, who could not speak till she was four years old. In fact, family and friends also need to be listened to and supported. Specialists come to the association to meet and help them accept their situation. Each month, all the members get together to talk about a special topic; it is a good way to learn from each other. The association is a place where everyone has a purpose. All parents, friends, and deaf or hard-of-hearing have an important role in APAHN. Even young people are active with their own assignments, organizing plenty of activities. Ximena explains that “all contributions from member support makes APAHN a living association.” Mutual aid is an essential value for all members. Juan Francisco Lizera, a young hard-of-hearing person, confirms this. The 20-yearold young man states, “I really like helping all children in the association.” His mother is very proud of him: “He is adorable and so pleased to be active in APANH.” She is also a member of the association and admits that it requires a huge time investment, but it is absolutely worth it. It is very enriching for the whole family.

Above all, APANH fights to stop all discrimination against deaf or hard-of-hearing and tries to make them feel integrated within the Bolivian population.

APANH is not alone in trying to improve the life of deaf people. They have been developing more and more partnerships over the years. For example, a member of APANH can receive all the dental treatments that it needs for only 200 bolivianos a year. This access to dental health care is possible thanks to an agreement between the association and CONSULDENT. Additionally, family and children can join computer classes, attended by Carla, thanks to CEICOM, a computer institute. “Members of APANH can learn how to use Power Point, Excel, and Word, which is very useful for their future,” explains Carla. Leisure time is also well provided through an agreement with the swimming pool Julio León Prado. Ximena explains, “Reducing prices encourages deaf people to enjoy the swimming pool and overcome their fears.”

In the end, all these activities are possible thanks to the support of HRF, a Swedish federation for deaf people. Besides the discount for dental care and the reduced prices for swimming, APANH has many other projects: they are planning to organize a trip with the members of the association, and a second regional health hearing day is already planned for this year. They also hope to organize a national health hearing day. Finally, APANH is slowly trying to become independent, keeping the association alive, and completing all their objectives.

Hearing loss is quite unknown among the public and by the health authorities. Thus, measures must be taken to help deaf people in their daily lives. APANH tries to make clear to everyone how it is like to live with hearing loss. “Wearing a hearing aid should be as normal as wearing glasses,” emphasizes Ximena. Above all, APANH fights to stop all discrimination against deaf or hard-of-hearing and tries to make them feel integrated within the Bolivian population.

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