According to the United Nation’s World Health Organization (WHO), there are almost 300 million people in the world who are hearing impaired. That means that the number of people around the world who have a moderate to profound hearing impairment is close in size to the population of the U.S.
Three hundred million is a large number, but Rina Jayani Rahmadi, a mother of three and an IBM sales operations professional in Jakarta, Indonesia, is doing all she can. She started Indonesia Hear Foundation to help a growing group of about 100 parents whose children are hearing impaired. For Rina, though, it all started with helping just one little boy.
Everything seemed fine when Rina’s son Ramzy was born in 2002. Even though he would react to loud sounds, Rina suspected something wasn’t right when Ramzy hadn’t started talking by the age of two. After some testing, doctors told Rina that Ramzy had only slight hearing in one ear, and was deaf in the other. Rina, her husband, and Ramzy were sent home with minimal advice and support on what to do next, and how to deal with this life changing situation.
For a brief period Ramzy went to a special school, but Rina felt the approach was too rigid for a child barely three years old. She thought there must be a better way. “Many people believe that sign language will be the only way someone with hearing impairment will be able to speak, and for some this is true,” says Rina. “But I went to the Internet and I learned about auditory verbal therapy.”
Auditory verbal therapy (AVT) teaches someone to speak using their hearing through a hearing aid or implant. Rina discovered an AVT practitioner in Jakarta and quickly had Ramzy start the therapy. She says, “Early intervention is very important for AVT to be as effective as possible. You cannot be too young to start as long as there is some hearing.”
What started as a sad, frustrating and frightening time in their lives turned into one with hope. “I remember every sound Ramzy was making—every ‘um’ and ‘ah, he made after he started AVT,” Rina says. “I cannot tell you how happy I was when he started saying words and speaking. It was incredible.”
They are not alone
Today Ramzy attends a regular school, is learning the guitar, wants to play baseball, and often speaks—yes speaks – to audiences of parents and children who are learning how to deal with hearing impairment.
Rina remembers those early weeks after discovering Ramzy’s hearing impairment and believes that much of her feeling of helplessness could have been avoided. So, in 2006, when others asked her to share her experience and knowledge, Rina agreed and the Indonesia Hear Foundation was born.
The foundation holds monthly workshops with invited speakers—Ear/Nose/Throat doctors, psychologists, therapy practitioners—who donate their time to talk about issues related to hearing impairment. When specialists aren’t available, parents—experts in their own right—share their experiences with other parents, giving them inspiration and motivation.
“We help the parents learn how to choose the right hearing aid, and teach their children the importance of wearing it,” Rina says. “Many children get self-conscious or stressed about the hearing aid, and letting the parents know about behavior management is important. We want both the parents and the children to know they are not alone.”