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Help The Children Hear - Star Ledger Article

All Ears For the Less Fortunate - Helping Argentina's Hearing Impaired Kids

Got an old, broken hearing aid that's just lying in a dresser drawer? David Gurian wants it.

Functioning or not, new or old, custom-fitted or standard-style behind-the-ear type, he wants them all.

Gurian, an audiologist and hearing aid specialist, is collecting hearing aid parts that could be reconstructed and sent to Tucumán, a poor province in Argentina, where an alarmingly high rate of children are born with hearing loss.

"As they grow up and they can't hear, they can't develop speech," Gurian, president of Gurian Vision & Hearing in West Caldwell.

"Help the Children Hear for a Better Tomorrow" is actually a project of the Tucumán Sur Rotary Club, which is addressing the hearing-impaired children of its province.

This is how the project reached New Jersey:

In April, Gurian, a member of the Rotary Club of the Caldwells, read an article in the Rotary's district newspaper written by Katherine Abbiate, mother of Amanda Abbiate.

Amanda, also daughter of Robert Abbiate, past president of the Blairstown Rotary Club, was on a Rotary Exchange in Tucumán, spending her high school junior year abroad.

While there, Amanda met members of the Tucumán Sur Rotary Club, including then president Tony Muntaner, and learned of "Help the Children Hear..." Katherine also visited her daughter in Tucumán in February.

When she returned to New Jersey, Katherine wrote the article for the 7470 In Flight, Rotary District 7470's newsletter, inviting members to participate in "coordinating the desperate needs of these children with the incredible resources we have available in our country."

Being his field of expertise, Gurian immediately sprung to action. He contacted Abbiate and asked how he could help. Meanwhile Rotary International had proposed a $10,000 matching grant.

Gurian asked the Rotary club of the Caldwells for a donation, and the club pledged $4,000. The Blairstown club raised $4,000 as well, and the Tucumán Sur Rotary Club raised $2,200.

The grant will enable the group to buy new hearing aids for the most critical 240 children targeted over a two-year period. These children are under age 2.

That makes Gurian and others very happy. But what happens at the end of the two years when the funds run dry, thought Gurian.

That's when he suggested starting a hearing-aid bank. Gurian arranged a deal with the Starkey Hearing Aid Laboratories, Inc., in Minneapolis, in which the Rotary Club received credit for old hearing-aid instruments.

For every hearing-aid - whatever type and condition - that the Rotary collects and sends to Starkey, the company will credit the Rotary's account and send a refurbished unit to Tucumán.

This will enable the Rotary to provide an on-going, long-term supply of hearing-aids long after the initial funding has been exhausted.

"This is the most critical age in children because of speech development and hence, the cornerstone to early childhood education." said Gurian.

Katherine Abbiate said the underprivileged children of Tucumán suffer an alarming rate of hearing deficiencies from birth.

"By age 3, they are developmentally challenged and destined to a self-perpetuating cycle of illiteracy and poverty," she said. "Hearing aids, if available at all, are three times more expensive than in the U.S."

Gurian said that what is occurring in Tucumán today is reminiscent of what happened decades ago in this country. The problem of hearing loss was not detected in many children and they were subsequently misdiagnosed as suffering from mental problems.

"Kids were put into institutions and diagnosed with mental disabilities," said Gurian. "In fact, these kids were pretty intelligent. They just needed help."

Gurian is not going to stop there. He plans to contact major child related corporations and suggest they post signs in their stores asking for unusable hearing aids.

"To me, this is the springboard," said Gurian.

This article ran in the Star Ledger newspaper on October 14, 1999.




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