Eleven Utah State University students returned from the Dominican Republic on Sunday after a weeklong volunteer mission with the Starkey Hearing Foundation to provide hearing aids to individuals without access to health care.
Audiology students in the doctoral program at the Sorenson Legacy Foundation Center for Clinical Excellence have raised funds all year as part of a course designed around the service mission. The students pay for the missions themselves, holding bake sales to raise the money to cover the trip.
“It’s a great way for them to get experience,” said Heather Jensen, the audiology clinical assistant professor at USU. “It takes them out of the clinic and makes them think outside of the box and see the patient in a different way.”
The doctoral program in audiology is a specialization in the disability disciplines Ph.D. program in the Emma Eccles Jones School of Education and Human Services. The trip is part of an ongoing service-learning opportunity with Starkey Hearing Foundation that Utah State has been a part of for 14 years.
Jensen said that the foundation has always provided hearing aids for the trips but in 2011 the students started to go with the foundation on the missions rather than separately.
The Starkey Hearing Foundation is a nonprofit that has worked to bring hearing aids to individuals around the world for more than 30 years.
Shannon Edelman is starting her second year in the program and said that she feels blessed to have the health care opportunities that others may not have.
“I wanted to be able to give back to people because I am so lucky,” Edelman said. “It was very touching and rewarding. I think one of the biggest things you learn is just caring and taking time with everyone.”
Edelman said that part of the reason she wanted to come to USU is because the school offered these humanitarian trips.
“For me it wasn’t ‘will I go,’ it was always, ‘I hope I get in so I can go,’” Edelman said. “It was a lot of hard work and I was exhausted most of the nights, but it’s indescribable, really. Just to be able to see the people and watch them be able to hear for the first time and see their faces light up.”
Jensen said that the audiology students have traveled to Kenya, Cambodia and different parts of South America.
“We hear a lot about the need, but we don’t actually experience it until we go there,” said Jalin Finai, an audiology student starting the final year of her program. “There’s so many people who need help and if there’s that need, why wouldn’t I go, you know?”
Finai went on the humanitarian mission last year to El Salvador and said that the experience was similar for both missions.
“The people are very warm and welcoming, and you can just feel how grateful they are,” Finai said. “My biggest takeaway from this is to think about how I can make a difference going forward. Yes, we see the need in these countries, but also, what can I do to help our community here? How can I give back?”
Students like Finai, Edelman and Monica Muncy were able to interact with other students in the program and said that it was great to learn from each other.
“It’s a unique opportunity for us to interact with the other students in the program,” Muncy said. “But making sure the patient is happy and wearing their hearing aid is what it’s all about.”