Volunteering in Vietnam: Interview with Charlie Shafer
Douglas L. Beck, AuD, speaks with Charlie, student and volunteer, about growing up with severe-to-profound hearing loss, hearing aids, volunteerism, Vietnam, and more.
Academy: Good morning, Charlie. Thanks for meeting with me this morning.
Shafer: Hi, Dr. Beck.
Academy: Charlie, my friend Paige Stringer (of the Global Foundation for Children with Hearing Loss) told me a little about you, and I wanted to tell the readers about your fine work and intentions. Let's start with you're 15 years old (birthday last week) and a high school student in Seattle. Is that right?
Shafer: Yes, that's right.
Academy: Paige told me you're a very smart young man and you've been wearing hearing aids your whole life, and most recently you've volunteered to join her and the Global Foundation on their upcoming trip to Southeast Asia (June 2011) to work with deaf and hard of hearing students?
Shafer: That's right. I'm a deaf student, too, and I've been wearing aids since I was about one year old because I have a severe-to-profound hearing loss.
Academy: And it seems your path crossed with Paige's, and then she told the teachers and audiologists in Vietnam about your successes and accomplishments with binaural hearing aids and your academic success…and then what happened?
Shafer: Well, last year (2010), when Paige was working in Vietnam, she told some of the teachers there about what we do in the United States with educating deaf students and how we use hearing aids and FM systems. The American special education teachers sent me an e-mail from Vietnam and they wanted to learn more about American children with hearing loss and they asked me make a video about my experiences. So I did that. I made a video about how my summer was going and the teachers in Vietnam liked it.
Academy: That's pretty cool. And so what happened after that?
Shafer: That inspired me to do more. So I asked Paige if I could go with her to Vietnam to meet the teachers and the students there and to see if I could help one-on-one and Paige said that would be great.
Academy: Wow. That's pretty cool. So you're going this summer (2011). What will you be doing there?
Shafer: Well, I think we're still figuring out some of that. But pretty much I'll be showing them how I can speak and communicate with my hearing aids and that hearing-impaired people and deaf people can speak and read and they all don't have to sign unless they choose to do that. And that's really important for them to know because lots of kids with hearing loss are taught to sign and their parents don't know they could learn to speak if they had the right hearing aids and teachers.
Academy: Yes, well that's a very important issue and significant point and I'm sure that will be very impressive for the people you meet in Vietnam. In particular, the lesson is children with hearing loss and their parents do have options—ranging from hearing aids, FM Systems, cochlear implants, assistive devices and so much more. Unfortunately, parents cannot even attempt to provide options if they don't know they exist! So you're going to be an "American student ambassador" in Vietnam and you'll represent what a child with a profound hearing loss can accomplish when he is fit with hearing aids early and has a lot of education, reading and speech-language support, excellent and supportive parents, teachers providing one-on-one help, and, of course, excellent hearing aids!
Shafer: Yes. That's the idea. So basically it's just showing them I have a regular life. I mean, yes, being deaf can be challenging sometimes, like when a hearing aid battery goes dead—so I have to carry extra batteries with me all the time and most kids don't have to do that! And sometimes I have to sit up front and I do say "what?" sometimes, too, but so do kids with normal hearing! And my friends know that I'm deaf and so they help me a lot when I need it. And sometimes I have to skip school for audiology appointments, but my life isn't really that different from a regular life.
Sometimes I don't actually hear the whole homework or in-class assignment at school but my friends and teachers help me and sometimes I have a hard time at swimming parties because if I take the hearing aids out to jump in the pool I can't hear. And then after I get out of the water I have to make sure my ears and hair are dry before I put the hearing aids back in my ears—but that's not a big deal anyway.
Academy: That is fantastic. And I'm really proud of you for doing so well and for taking on this role as an ambassador. I know you have to work much harder than your friends and the other kids with normal hearing, but that's been your choice and you've chosen excellence—which is always the right way to go, but not always the easiest path! And by the way, we should also mention that you've been involved in school musicals.
Shafer: I was in Fiddler on the Roof. It was really fun and I played a son. I was also the lead actor in the musical, You're a Good Man Charlie Brown!, last year in middle school. But things are going really well for me in school and I also do a lot of reading writing and I like to do those things.
Academy: Okay, very good. Tell me a little about financing the trip to Vietnam. How are you paying for it?
Shafer: I'm asking for sponsors. I send out a packet and a three-page letter that says what I'm doing and it has information about the school in Vietnam that I'll be working at. The letter has information about Paige and her group and then it says what I'm asking for as far as financial sponsorship. And the packet has a letter from my high school, Seattle Preparatory School, explaining the large scholarship I received from the Thompson Family Foundation for this service mission. I have raised approximately $3,600 so far.
Academy: And how do people contact you to get a copy of these materials, in case they want to help you?
Shafer: My email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Academy: Okay, well I think so, too. My family is going to send a contribution and I want to encourage my friends and colleagues and readers to see if they might be able to, also. And I know you're happy and appreciative of all gifts, even the $5 and $10 gifts!
Academy: Okay, and then we'll catch-up again late in the summer after you get back.
Shafer: That would be great.
Academy: Okay, Charlie. Safe travels to you and best of luck!
Shafer: Thanks, Dr. Beck.
Charlie Shafer is a student and volunteer. Click here to review is appeal letter .
Douglas L. Beck, AuD, Board Certified in Audiology, is the Web content editor for the American Academy of Audiology.
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