AZERBAIJAN - The life of sixteen-year-old Ahmadli Nijad, who has been deaf since childbirth, underwent a dramatic transformation this week. Born with severe hearing problems that exacerbated with age, Nijad and his family have always been told by local doctors in Azerbaijan that he would never be able to hear.
But last Tuesday, thanks to a group of highly motivated Israelis Nijad received a gift that would change his life: A hearing aid that enables him to hear.
An Israeli delegation made up of volunteers from two organizations, Hedim and Eye from Zion, arrived in Azerbaijan last week with 70 hearing aids in a bid to assist and train local health personnel to treat people suffering from hearing impairment or deafness.
Kids treated by the delegation (Photos: Merav Yudilovitch)
The initiative is the brainchild of Eye from Zion founder Nati Marcus. In the last three years the foundation has been operating in remote places around the globe bringing humanitarian aid and equipment to populations in need.
The decision to go to Azerbaijan, a wealthy country, came following President Shimon Peres' recent visit to the Muslim state and in light of the desire to improve the relations with the country that shares a border with Iran.
"It's true that we normally go to remote places such as Vietnam or Tibet, and we will soon travel to the area in Burma where the cyclone hit and to where the tsunami hit in Sri Lanka," said Marcus. "But children like Ahmadli Nijad make such a delegation worth it. Additionally, we found out that there is enormous need for information here. The idea is to teach local doctors how to continue working with the equipment we have brought through training there, and if needed also in Israel.
"Essentially, we serve as goodwill ambassadors for the State of Israel here," he added.
Marcus, who led the delegation, was joined in the initiative by the Hedim Institute chain of hearing and speech rehabilitation clinics in Israel and Canadian company Unitron, which specializes in manufacturing hearing instruments. Equipment worth NIS 200,000 (approximately $52,500) was flown to Azerbaijan and for two days the Israeli team had treated over 40 men, women and children.
Anat Kochva, a qualified audiologist and speech/language pathologist who founded the Hedim Institute recounted her encounter with Nijad, who came to meet the delegation all the way from the city of Gabala, which is located far away from the capital of Baku.
"He simply insisted on coming. This is a child who hasn't developed language skills, but from the moment I saw him, with his clever, shining eyes I liked him. The local doctors didn't want to treat him; they thought he was a lost case. His look caught me. It wasn't a blank stare. When I called him he replied by humming. I realized he can't speak, just utter voices.
People travelled from afar
"I started examining him and at first I saw that the damage to one ear was beyond repair. I'd almost given up, but then I saw that there's hope for the other ear. He responded to the hearing aid immediately. This is a boy who's grown up wild, has never been to any educational framework and has never been able to hear. Now he would have to learn how to hear," she said.
After two particularly intense days the delegation, along with Magen David Adom paramedics and the Israeli ambassador to Azerbaijan travelled to the city of Guba to open a first-of-its-kind center for emergency medicine in the Muslim side of the city and in cooperation with the Red Crescent.
Rabbi Yosef, a representative of one of the donors to the project, asked: "In how many places in the world can you see the Red Crescent and Magen David Adom side by side?"
He added that the connection between MDA and the Red Crescent, and cooperation between the two religions, is what the donors saw in mind when they decided to support the project. "We brought first aid kits, basic equipment, computers and of course staff.
"The goal is to build an infrastructure and train and certify local paramedics."
For the Israeli Ambassador to Azerbaijan Michael Lavon-Lotem, who took office only two weeks ago, this was a first trip to Guba. After visiting the center, he said: "When we Israelis open the window in the morning we see Jihad. This is why it's hard for us to understand that there is a different, wonderful, multifaceted world out there that we need to try harder to connect to."
Israeli Ambassador Lavon-Lotem and local Red Crescent representative
Lavon-Lotem called for increased Israeli efforts to create cooperation in the region. "After all," he explained, "not many leaders of Muslim countries would have stood up to Iranian pressure and decided to host the Israeli president. I can wholeheartedly say that Azerbaijan wants ties with Israel."
Commenting on the new center, the envoy added that "the effect and influence of such an investment over time is huge."
Last weekend a group of the people who have been treated by the Israeli delegation arrived in Gabala to listen to the Raanana Symphonette Orchestra in concert. This was the first time an Israeli orchestra played in the country, and was surely an unforgettable experience for several dozens Azeris.