Serving and Empowering the World’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing. These are the first words you will read on the website of the only Deaf-led humanitarian group, Deaf Planet Soul (DPS). A registered non-profit group based out of Chicago, Illinois, DPS was founded by Gregory Perez, a Deaf man with decades of non-profit experience.
Recognizing that throughout history, members of the Deaf community have faced barriers to education, employment, and socialization, DPS brings together members of their community, offering them an opportunity to flourish. Through fitness, the arts, education, career development, and access to physical space, DPS is empowering the world’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
Zaineb Abdulla is the Vice President of Deaf Planet Soul. After reading about Syrian refugee children living in Lebanon, and their rates of declining hearing related to their countries civil war, she knew she had to do something about it. Zaineb, Gregory, and 2 other members of DPS set off on a humanitarian hearing mission early this year providing audiological care, hearing aids, and sign language resources. Below, in her own words, Zaineb tells of planning for the trip and shares the results of their mission.
On March 5th, 2017, my team at Deaf Planet Soul facilitated the world’s first Deaf-led humanitarian aid mission. Traveling from our homes in Chicago, Ohio, and Maryland, we made the 14-hour journey to Lebanon, prepared to serve hundreds of deaf children: refugees from the Syrian Civil War.
Planning this trip was an arduous process. As a small nonprofit, affording the required equipment was a challenge and as a newcomer to the world of humanitarian audiology, many manufacturers were hesitant to support our efforts. Every dollar spent on equipment was a dollar taken away from the children we served and pretty soon, it became clear that this trip simply could not happen unless someone took a chance on us. And someone did.
SHOEBOX Audiometry partnered with us making it possible for us to use their portable audiometer, complete with an iPad, transducer headphones and the software we needed to test our patients. The SHOEBOX Audiometry system was made for missions like ours. Small and lightweight it was easy to transport to each refugee camp. Because the entire system runs on an iPad, we were able to charge overnight and not worry about losing power during the day. This was incredibly helpful for us, as we worked in refugee camps steeped in poverty, with electricity that worked only intermittently.
When people think of war, they think of the visible injuries: cut-off limbs and blood pouring down the face. Very few consider deafness, an invisible injury. Even fewer consider the long-lasting damage that can happen when a deaf child is left without language or hearing aids. Without intervention, the isolation caused by deafness can be devastating. We treated so many patients who spent their entire lives without a language, communicating through pointing and gestures only. As a Deaf-led team, we made it our singular goal to ensure that these children left our makeshift clinics with both language and sound. Using the SHOEBOX unit, we were able to screen 170 children, distribute 117 hearing aids and counsel an additional 255 parents in beginners’ Sign Language. The impact of this work is both life-changing and far-reaching. The power of access to sound and language cannot be overstated.
For more information on the important work being done by Deaf Planet Soul, you can watch a short video of Zaineb teaching sign language to a young boy and read an article published by the Associated Press about a young girl hearing her mothers voice for the first time after being fit with hearing aids provided by DPS.
With their first mission complete, the team is already planning their next trip. If you would like to support their fundraising efforts, visit their website to see how you can help.