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Jenna Sawafta is a third-year Doctor of Audiology student who has combined her passion for sustainable health care with reaching underserved populations in the Middle East by creating a series of YouTube videos designed to provide quality and accessible health care resources to those who speak Arabic.

“Some people still live in villages where they’re hours from a major medical center,” Sawafta explained. “Political situations might not allow them to get the care that they deserve.”

Sawafta explained that humanitarian aid groups that visit the Middle East often result in short-term solutions for hearing aid health care, instead of creating sustainable, long-lasting resources for those who need medical care.

“The next time they might see somebody who’s trained to know what a hearing aid does and how to work it, could be six to twelve months when that organization returns,” Sawafta said. “I think hearing is a really wonderful part of life. And if we’re able to help people access that, I think it’s a really big privilege.”

Sawafta, whose program is housed in the Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences, is a trainee with the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disciplines, an interdisciplinary program offered by the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities. She credits the LEND program, under the leadership of Jackson Roush, PhD, with sparking her idea for the informational videos.

“I sat in [his] office and I told him, ‘I don’t really know what I want to do,'” Sawafta explained. “He asked me: What are you passionate about?”

Roush, who practiced audiology for 35 years and is a professor with the audiology program, encouraged Sawafta to pursue a project that would combine her love for audiology while addressing issues of sustainable humanitarian health care in the Middle East.

“The LEND program is honestly, probably like the biggest blessing of my whole graduate career,” Sawafta said.

The YouTube videos are meant to be a sustainable resource that parents can access in order to troubleshoot hearing aids and various issues they may encounter.

Her interdisciplinary training with the LEND program led her to realize her love for working with children who have multiple developmental disabilities.

“It’s been a really wonderful opportunity to realize this whole other area that I didn’t even know I was passionate about,” Sawafta said.

The division is one of seven housed in the Department of Allied Health Sciences in the UNC School of Medicine. Ranked fourth by U.S. News and World Report, the audiology program is among the best in the country.

-Brooke Love, communications intern