This young woman is making the future sound positive for all kids.
Grace O’Brien, 18, is the founder of Ears for Years -- a nonprofit that distributes low-cost, solar-powered hearing aids to children in developing countries, USA Today reported. The college freshman has distributed the devices, which are sustainable and environmentally friendly, to kids in five different countries around the globe so far, with plans to reach more families in need in 2016.
“This hearing aid is giving them a chance to escape poverty,” O’Brien told the news outlet. “It’s giving them the chance to get a valid education and I think that’s really amazing.”
O’Brien was inspired to found Ears for Years after witnessing her father experience hearing loss. To further understand the condition, O'Brien volunteered at a summer theater camp for children who were deaf, the Orange County Register reported. There, she saw the impact hearing aids made on the young campers, and wanted to find a way to make these devices more accessible, especially to families who could not afford them.
“I've learned how powerful solutions are,” O'Brien told the news outlet. “There are so many problems we come across in our daily lives, but often people pass up the opportunity to find solutions.”
After doing some research, she came across Solar Ear, a Brazil-based company that manufactures low-cost hearing aids, targeted specifically at children. These devices are lightweight, cost just about $100 and are equipped with rechargeable batteries that last up to three years, whereas standard hearing aids can cost up to $1,000 and have a much shorter lifespan.
“We wish to get children before the age of 3 a hearing aid which will give them the ability to hear therefore the opportunity to communicate,” Solar Ear wrote on its website. “These children will then be able to go to a public school as there are few schools for the deaf, especially in developing countries.”
According to the World Health Organization, 32 million children worldwide live with disabling hearing loss -- the majority of them are in low and middle-income countries.
According to Forbes, current production levels of hearing aids meet less than 10 percent of the global need, and O’Brien would like to change that statistic by making the solar-powered devices accessible to families in need around the world. So far, she has brought Solar Ear’s products to Mexico, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Nicaragua and Honduras, as reported by USA Today, but recently launched a GoFundMe campaign to further advance her work.
The 18-year-old was awarded a Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, telling USA Today of the achievement, “It was so amazing to see that in that moment, I had done something that would make a difference in somebody else’s life.”
To donate to the Ears for Years GoFundMe campaign, click here.
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