BALTIMORE, Maryland – Grace O’Brien has brought lightweight, sustainable hearing aids to children in Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, South Korea and Sri Lanka, and has plans to reach even more impoverished, disabled children.
“This hearing aid is giving them a chance to escape poverty,” the 18-year-old told USA Today. “It’s giving them the chance to get a valid education and I think that’s really amazing.”
O’Brien is the founder of Ears for Years, a nonprofit that distributes low-cost solar powered hearing aids to children in developing countries. She was inspired at the age of 14 when her father began suffering from hearing loss because of a brain tumor.
O’Brien then volunteered at the Orange County Register, a summer theater camp for children who are hearing impaired, where she realized the importance of hearing aids and decided to make the devices accessible for low income families.
Through her research, she discovered a Brazil-based company called Solar Ear, which develops solar powered hearing aids for children. Solar Ear strives to provide hearing aids to children three years old or younger to support their development in speech and understanding. This development allows children to attend public school.
“Hearing aid batteries cost about a dollar a week and for some families that could be their salary for the week,” explained O’Brien. Solar Ear’s hearing aids cost $100 and its solar rechargeable battery lasts up to three years, unlike most common hearing aids that cost thousands and have short lifespans.
O’Brien fondly recalls the first time she fit a Solar Ear device on a child, a three-year-old by in Mexico: “As soon as he put on the hearing aid his whole face lit up. His mom was right beside me and she started crying. It was so amazing to see that in that moment, I had done something that would make a difference in somebody else’s life.”
The World Health Organization states that 32 million children worldwide live with hearing disabilities, and the majority of them are from developing countries.
To continue her work, O’Brien has started a GoFundMe campaign and has currently raised $995 out of her goal of $1,500.