Nevada County speech pathologist brings donated hearing devices to Tibetan refugees |

Nevada County speech pathologist brings donated hearing devices to Tibetan refugees

A Tibetan nun shows her appreciation for a hearing aid donated by the Tibetan Refugee Hearing Project, which was launched by Cindy Shaw of Smartsville.
Submitted by Cindy Shaw |

For more

To learn more about the Tibetan Refugee Hearing Project, contribute to the project or donate a hearing aid, contact Cindy Shaw at or donate a molded analog hearing at:

Audiology Associates Hearing Center

101 Margaret lane, Ste. D in Grass Valley

Specify that the donation is for the Tibetan Refugee Hearing Project

In 2014, Cindy Shaw, a former Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital speech pathologist, took her first trip to the Indian village of McLeod Ganj, which is known for its large population of Tibetan refugees and is home to the Dalai Lama.

A longtime member of Sierra Friends of Tibet, Shaw had taken a three month sabbatical to study Tibetan Buddhism, Sanskrit and the culture’s ancient study of the mind and how it intersects with modern scientific discovery.

She was hooked.

“For 23 years I’ve worked with neurologic patients — such as those with brain injuries, those who’ve suffered a stroke or developed a brain tumor,” said Shaw. “I was fascinated by the Tibetan holistic approach to ‘mind science.’ They have become masters. I believe their ability to understand the mind-heart connection and how it works is way beyond what neuroscience can measure. I knew my studies there would complement my professional knowledge.”

Tibet trips

That first visit, Shaw brought with her two donated amplification devices and gave one to a hearing impaired high level nun who lived in the Dalai Lama’s residence and served as the spiritual leader’s Italian translator. Thanks to a minor in audiology, Shaw was able to fine tune and customize the device.

“The nun was beyond thrilled — it meant she could go to classes and understand the teacher again,” said Shaw. “Because her response was so positive, I realized what it could do for others. She was my pilot study. I took the second one to a doctor in an elderly home. His patients could finally hear his questions clearly. They were so grateful — they wanted to enshrine the device.”

A year later, Shaw went back for a month, bringing six more donated devices. In May of 2017, she went for a third time to McLeod Ganj, and was finally able to stay for several months, as after 23 years of working at the hospital, she had finally retired. She brought with her 20 amplifiers and 15 hearing aids, which enabled her to provide devices for nearly all residents in need at the village’s home for elderly Tibetan refugees. As a result of generous donations in Nevada County, the Tibetan Refugee Hearing Project was born.

On Feb. 25, Shaw will again return to the Western Himalayan town of 11,000 with more devices in hand. Working in concert with Nevada County audiologists Sol Barros of Audiology Associates and Melanie Sullivan of Sonic Technology, a portion of the donated hearing devices have been customized based on audiograms performed in India.

Heading out again

With her departure looming in less than two weeks, Shaw is eager to spread the word — donated hearing aids would be greatly appreciated, specifically older analog hearing aids with ear molds, not the newer digital devices. Donations can be dropped at Barros’ office, located at 101 Margaret Lane in Grass Valley.

“A full 50 percent of the non-westerners I meet in the village are illiterate,” said Shaw. “Many refugees have no family or funds. If you can’t read or write, hearing loss can mean total isolation.”

When she arrives in McLeod Ganj on Feb. 25, Shaw said her focus will be on a second home for the elderly, situated roughly five hours down the mountain from her home. But she also hopes to add a new component — to help younger individuals who have experienced hearing loss due to “audio toxic” medications, such those used to treat hepatitis, tuberculosis and cancer.

Shaw has been working in concert with the local hospital to identify those in need and provide proper screening.

“You can imagine what it means for an elderly refugee to be able to hear the Dalai Lama speak after years of muffled sounds,” said Shaw. “If you can’t read, hearing is your only way to connect. A hearing aid means you’re once again connected to the world and spiritual teachings.”

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at

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