A Voice from Oaxaca
When the Cole-Gardner family recently vacationed in Oaxaca, Mexico, they brought along several basketballs, soccer balls and baseball gloves, to donate to indigenous children without ready access to such sports paraphernalia. They’d read this writer’s article about the opportunity to help Oaxacans in need by filling an empty suitcase — earmarked for packing Oaxaca handicrafts — with used clothing or anything else available for donating. They also brought 668 hearing aid batteries to donate to CORAL, Centro Oaxaqueño de Rehabilitación de Audición y Lenguaje, A.C., a non-profit organization providing assistance to the deaf and hearing impaired and their families in Oaxaca.
CORAL, the Oaxacan Center for the Rehabilitation of Hearing and Speech, is a vibrant NGO. It relies on donations from predominantly private and local corporate foundations to assist mainly young, hearing impaired children whose families are of extremely modest means. The four-pronged enterprise consists of an audiology clinic, hearing and speech therapy center, early detection hearing loss program, and a social work component. One would be hard-pressed to find a more commendable aid organization if you plan to visit Oaxaca and want to contribute clothing, cash, or of course hearing aids and components.
History of CORAL, Oaxacan Center for the Rehabilitation of Hearing and Speech
In 1988, an Oregon couple, Drs. Richard Carroll and Nancy Press, began investigating the problems besetting poor, rural Oaxacans. They spent months at a time away from their medical practice in the U.S., visiting indigenous and mestizo communities. They identified a major impediment to progress in the pueblos: deafness and hearing loss in a number of children that was not being treated when hearing impairment began, or ever.
While there was perhaps only one audiologist in the entire State of Oaxaca when the doctors began, over the course of the ensuring decade they nevertheless managed to assemble a team of professionals to assist in what became their passion: to identify the hearing impaired, and provide aid – any kind of aid they could muster through their own resources, and in due course charitable contributions of others.
In 1999, CORAL rented premises in Oaxaca, enabling it to continue the work of Drs. Carroll and Press in a more formalized fashion. It thereafter began associating directly with a registered American charity with related goals, Child-Aid. In 2008, CORAL purchased its current premises, so as to better enable the center to advance its goal of identifying those Oaxacans who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, assess their needs and those of their families, and act.
Work of CORAL as a Charity in Oaxaca, to assist the deaf and hearing impaired
The virtually non-existent component of audiologists in Oaxaca in the 1980s has now grown to at least six, two of whom work at CORAL on a part-time basis. Its hearing impaired facilities now employ eight specialists trained to assist the hard-at-hearing and deaf, and one volunteer. The total complement working at CORAL is 15 individuals. Its director, Oaxaca native Saul Fuentes Olivares, is a career NGO organizer and employee. Its coordinator of promotion and fundraising, Megan Glore, is an American, curiously with a Masters’ in ethnobotany from the University of Kent in Canterbury, England. They, like the rest, are dedicated to ameliorating the problem of hearing impairment among young children in Oaxaca which would otherwise go unnoticed, and untreated.
The CORAL audiology clinic is designed for testing and diagnosis, repairs and maintenance to hearing aids and hearing-related accessories, and ongoing support. Individuals of all ages have access to the clinic.
The therapy center currently has 35 children enrolled. Parental attendance is a prerequisite. The program consists of morning group sessions and afternoon individualized treatment. Attendance is optimally required four days per week, and 10 is the maximum number children per hearing and speech specialist. With such numbers, it should come as no surprise that there is a waiting list.
The early detection program is designed to identify and treat children in infancy, by sending staff out into the field, as well as training doctors to recognize and screen for hearing loss behaviors. A major component of this work is to assist parents in identifying normal childhood development and what to do if they suspect a hearing problem.
Analysis begins as early as two days after birth, with therapy commencing as early as six months old. While therapy generally continues for about two years, there are children who have been treated through the clinic for profound hearing loss for up to nine years, using different therapeutic modalities.
Through the social work component of CORAL, staff travels throughout the City of Oaxaca and into rural communities to identify and serve deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals. Once in the home, staff educates on the use of aids, troubleshoots problems, provides resources, and monitors.
Why CORAL needs charitable donations
Every family that participates in CORAL hearing impairment programs must make a financial contribution. But such donations are token or extremely modest. For example, CORAL currently has three designated categories of families whose members receive assistance for hearing loss:
- Families with monthly income of less than 1,000 pesos (about $80 USD)
- Families with monthly income of between 1,000 and 5,500 pesos
- Families with monthly income of over 5,500 pesos
The clinic assists the hearing impaired in mainly the first two categories. The cost to patients in the third category is lower than the prices for products and services charged elsewhere in Oaxaca. Currently each and every one of the 35 children being treated at the therapy center comes from a family earning less than 1,000 pesos monthly. Consider the donations that such households can possibly make!
While for the past five years CORAL has applied to the Government of Mexico for assistance, and has in fact received financial aid, the lion’s share of resources comes from individual donors and a number of Mexican corporate foundations. The total revenue received from all sources for the 2009 programs was about 1.8 million pesos, or under $150,000 USD – to pay 15 employees, utility costs, maintenance and taxes on the CORAL facilities, for all equipment (including hearing aid batteries which last only 15 – 20 days); and for two vehicles.
Plans to enhance the work of CORAL for deaf and hearing impaired in Oaxaca
CORAL is currently working on several projects it’s confident will bear fruit within the next several months, enabling it to better identify and treat deaf and hearing impaired children in Oaxaca:
- Designating a fourth category of monthly family income is in the works, designed to increase contributions from the “wealthy.” With all 35 children in the school coming from families with monthly incomes of less than 1,000 pesos, revenue from CORAL program participants to date has been negligible.
- February, 2010, marks the beginning of an in-home training program for parents in the outlying indigenous communities. Since many deaf and hearing impaired children reside more than a three-hour bus ride from the CORAL offices and are therefore precluded from attending regular weekly classes, this new program will bring CORAL’s resources into the pueblos by educating parents – for all intents and purposes making them therapists of their own children. Naturally, ongoing professional monitoring will continue.
- A plan is underfoot whereby – if all goes as anticipated – a particular Mexican corporation will be donating a fully-equipped vehicle to serve as a mobile clinic, enabling the work of CORAL professionals in the villages to proceed more efficiently.
- Through the auspices of Child-Aid, CORAL is a registered charity in the U.S. One is therefore able to deduct charitable donations against U.S. income. As a consequence of an agreement between Mexico and the U.S., American donors are entitled to receive tax deductible receipts by donating directly to CORAL. Now, a new arm to the program is in the planning stages, making contributions even more attractive to generous and caring Americans. With the institution of a child sponsorship program, contributors will have a one-on-one relationship with a particular infant or youth, and be able to monitor child’s progress and note their contributions at work. The program would be akin to Foster Parents Plan.
What vacationers can do for deaf and hearing impaired children in Oaxaca
While cash charitable donations constitute the most obvious and easiest means of contributing to the work done by CORAL, there are other ways of providing aid and assistance:
- The hearing aid batteries brought to Oaxaca by the Cole-Gardner family were actually donated by the Oregon Lion’s Sight and Hearing Foundation. Like organizations in one’s hometown can be tapped. Those with connections to product manufacturers should be able to approach those companies for similar aid.
- Many medical and dental supplies are accessible through dental equipment and pharmaceutical representatives, doctors, nurses, hygienists, and other staff in related fields. The beauty of items such as tooth brushes, dental floss, band-aids, and hearing aid batteries is that they are light, take up very little suitcase room, and do not need special packing to prevent breakage.
- Donations of used clothing are invaluable. If a family in Oaxaca with a child in treatment does not have to purchase clothes, it therefore has more resources to contribute to the child’s therapy as well as to other necessities of life simply not accessible to those “living on the edge.”
- Given that the therapy center serves a dual function of school, small educational toys and games, as well as sports equipment are helpful.
- Visitors to Oaxaca are at times considering a longer-term stay, as part of a sabbatical or when considering more permanent residency in the city. Those with specific training or experience in a field related to teaching, therapy or medical treatment for the deaf and hearing impaired, can provide much-needed volunteer services. Similarly, those with technical skills related to hearing aid components and other tools and equipment used in assessment and treatment can offer support. Finally, the assistance of a graphic designer, artist and / or computer programmer would be useful to CORAL in achieving its goals.
Contact CORAL: help the deaf and hearing impaired children of Oaxaca
Contact the staff of CORAL through its website, for more information about CORAL and helping the deaf and hearing impaired in Oaxaca through charitable contributions; or this writer to have your used clothing and other items picked up from your hotel or bed & breakfast.