A package arrived in Mysore, India, that would forever change the lives of 30 children.
Nestled inside were small white boxes labeled “Bernafon,” a Swiss manufacturer of precision hearing aids. The exact models had been handpicked for each child by Suma Harindra, head audiologist at the city’s Amrav Ear Nose and Throat Care.
The next day, the children arrived one by one for their fittings. “Aunty Suma” paired the hearing aids with each child’s custom-fitted earmold, trimmed the tubes and watched the kids’ eyes go wide as they entered the glorious world of sound.
Those children could never have afforded hearing aids without a benefactor — Natalie Tecimer, a student halfway across the world, at USC. Through her organization, Ending All Roads to Silence (EARS), Tecimer has become an advocate for hearing-impaired children worldwide. She is herself hearing impaired.
This year, her mission got a boost from billionaire-philanthropist and USC Trustee Ratan Tata, who through his Jamsetji Tata Trust is financing a $368,000 program to provide hearing aids, cochlear implants, audiological services, physician care and speech therapy for deaf and hard-of-hearing children in India.
We caught up with Tecimer as she races to the finish line of her undergraduate degree in international relations from the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. She was busy organizing a team of USC volunteers who will travel to India this month to oversee the program’s launch.
What does it take to be a social entrepreneur?
All it really takes is passion. Passion will propel you in your path to make the world a better place. Passion is contagious, and it is an extraordinarily genuine human emotion. With our first fundraising project, which raised about $22,000, our donors — over 100 of them — could visibly see the passion on my face for this cause.
How is EARS different from other organizations?
I started EARS at the age of 18. Because I was a freshman in college, I was at a major learning point in my life. To take on the founding of a nonprofit was a hefty task. We didn’t get our 501(c)(3) as fast as we might have, nor were we able to offer the high volume of programs that other nonprofits can offer. However, we are 100 percent not for profit, so every hour I spend working on EARS is an hour that reflects my passion and devotion to helping others.
What is the most valuable thing you learned as a Trojan?
I’ve learned the importance of being true to myself, whether that be in the classroom, in my organizations or in my personal life.
Is there a particular memory you cherish from your USC experience?
Tommy’s Place on campus has trivia nights every Wednesday from 7 to 9 p.m. This semester we have a team of five. Our motto is, “If we aren’t last, we are winners!” We are all diverse in our interests, which makes trivia night all the more fun. It isn’t one experience that I cherish most from my experience at USC, but rather experiences like these, where I appreciate the people who USC gave me the opportunity to meet.
Who has influenced you most in this journey?
My parents. I have never met two people who are more accepting, positive, passionate and happy. I learned early on that my purpose in life was to serve others. They taught me never to let my disability define me. Mom always said I was a better listener than my brother. It was that kind of belief and attitude that made me see hearing loss as something that could and needed to be fixed.
What’s next for you and EARS?
I am incredibly excited about the $368,000 program from the Jamsetji Tata Trust. This is a three-year program to give 30 children hearing aids and five children implants once a year for three years. I plan to move out of the Los Angeles area for my career, so this will be the first time that all of EARS is not in one place. I will still be running the international projects, and I know the USC organization will grow under the new leadership. I do not know where EARS will be in five years, and that is one of the most exciting parts.
What is your advice for young people like you?
Go for it! And make it an adventure. If it is an adventure, obstacles are exciting challenges, and every single thing you do will feel like you are moving forward. Most importantly, don’t do it unless it is fun. It is so important to have fun with life.