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When Ashwini was growing up in the Waghri basti, or slum, she suffered from recurrent and extremely painful ear infections that were never adequately treated or completely resolved. Like many children in our communities, she adapted to the situation, and her pain, ear blockage and hearing loss simply became part of life. This cycle of infection, inflammation and irritation weakened her eardrum and caused a growth called a cholesteatoma, which can permanently damage hearing and turn into a potentially life-threatening condition if allowed to expand further into the skull and brain.

Her story is all too common for children growing up in extreme poverty; in fact, our youngest Residential Program child, Ramu, shares this condition. Children with cholesteatoma suffer from late diagnosis, complications and inconsistent (or nonexistent) access to medical care. The hearing loss can affect speech and language development and cause children to be academically and socially delayed or isolated. In Ashwini’s case, her partial deafness, particularly on the right side, made it difficult for her to follow along in class, and we had to arrange extra support and adaptations for her to keep up with her peers.

When she came to AIC, Ashwini’s condition was diagnosed quickly (although relatively late in her life) and we began treatment immediately. Over a period of approximately 18 months, Ashwini underwent three surgeries to remove excess abnormal tissue and to reconstruct her eardrums in an attempt to restore hearing. She suffered the indignity of wearing bandages on her head for several weeks after each procedure — a special kind of torture for our image- and fashion-conscious teenager — and carefully avoided all swimming and water activities, despite her AIC brothers and sisters splashing around in the pool nearby. Today, Ashwini’s hearing is much, much better, allowing her to listen to the teachers in school and to hear the dialogue during family movie night (although the kids listen to such loud movies we’re pretty sure the dead could hear them, so that second one may not be much of an accomplishment … ). Her hearing may never be perfect, but we are so grateful she is on her way to a normal life and no longer has to live in discomfort.

AIC’s programs serve hundreds of children just like Ashwini in the Waghri and Sikligar slums. Please consider giving so another child does not have to suffer the pain, isolation and delays that she did. Your gift makes a world of difference in a child’s life, and we could not do this work without your support.