Growing up in Chile, Martina Guarello dreamed of becoming a journalist. But during a fateful trip to the US in 2017, she attended Ohio Valley Voices’ graduation ceremony and was inspired to enter the field of deaf education. This transformative moment was sparked by a simple yet profound realization—one that is central to OVV’s mission:
“Thanks to cochlear implants, kids who are completely deaf can now hear,” Martina explains. “And yet, though the technology is amazing, it is not enough for them to learn to listen and talk. That’s the job of teachers and Listening and Spoken Language Providers.”
Martina was born and raised in the small surf town of Reñaca, Chile, the granddaughter of German immigrants. As a child, she was often visited by her great uncle, Viktor Wilhelmy, who had moved to the United States in the 1970s to earn his doctorate. In the US, Viktor had established himself and started a family, which included a son, Martin, and Martin’s four children, Victoria, Cecilia, Philip, and Juliana. From an early age, Martina looked forward to the day when she could visit her American relatives.
“I have always been a very curious and adventurous person,” Martina muses. “When I was just a teenager, I told my dad, ‘I want to meet my American family.’ So I traveled by myself to Cincinnati to meet the Wilhelmys.” (You can read all about the Wilhelmys in this month’s Supporter Spotlight.)
It was during Martina’s first visit to the US that she attended Ohio Valley Voices’ graduation ceremony. The three youngest Wilhelmy children—Cecilia, Philip, and Juliana—were all diagnosed hard of hearing soon after birth, as was Martina’s mother, so it was a struggle Martina had witnessed up-close. Still, she knew little about oral education and was floored by what she saw and heard at the event.
“The graduation was beautiful,” Martina recalls. “At that time, I knew little about Listening and Spoken Language, so I thought it was magical. That inspired me to become a Speech-Language Pathologist.”
Ignited by her newfound passion for deaf education, Martina returned to Chile to study “Fonoaudiologia” (or Speech-Language Pathology) at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. She returned to Ohio Valley Voices twice as a student—first, in 2017, to spend four weeks observing the program’s teachers and pathologists, and again, in 2018, to complete a seven-week internship rotation. These would culminate in a tremendous opportunity—a chance to work at Ohio Valley Voices full-time.
“At the end of my internship, Maria called me into her office and offered me a position,” Martina reminisces. “I was shocked because I never thought it was possible! I went back to Chile, and then moved to Ohio in August 2019.”
Upon joining the OVV team, Martina worked as a Listening and Spoken Language Provider in OVV’s Discovery Center. There, she found immense satisfaction in building personal relationships with the children and helping them evolve as oral communicators.
“The most rewarding aspect is watching the kids grow and thrive with their listening and language skills,” Martina says. “I acknowledge it’s hard work for everybody—kids, families, teachers, audiologists, SLPs—but it pays off. Every new communication attempt, sound, and word is just so beautiful.”
Among Martina’s closest OVV buddies was Noah Davidson, who started at the Discovery Center just two weeks prior to the pandemic. Although COVID-19 forced OVV to pivot to online learning during the spring and summer of 2020, Noah quickly adapted, and he and Martina formed a special bond during their regular virtual learning sessions.
Martina’s close relationship with Noah became the impetus for an exciting new creative endeavor. “I’ve always loved to write, and during quarantine Noah and his family inspired me to write my book ‘Thank You Super Ears,’” she elaborates. The book tells the story of Noah, a boy with hearing loss who learns to listen and talk with the help of hearing aids or “super ears.” In the words of the book’s hero, “My super ears give me the power to listen and talk, and I feel like a superhero who can shine and rock!”
Describing her motivation behind writing the book, Martina says, “My main goal was to invite children, parents, and deaf educators to reflect on the importance of accepting ourselves and being proud of who we are. I want kids with hearing loss to be proud of their hearing devices—their super ears—and their speaking journey. They are real-life superheroes, and so are their families!”
With support from friends, family, and colleagues—including OVV’s Julie Paulson, who translated the story into English, and Chilean artist Maria del Pilar Parro, who created the book’s gorgeous illustrations—Martina successfully completed the book and had it printed in both English and Spanish. (You can purchase a copy of “Thank You Super Ears” on Amazon.)
Although it has received positive feedback from all corners of the deaf community, the book’s biggest fan is Noah himself. He couldn’t stop smiling when Martina read it to him for the first time and was thrilled to be the namesake of a fictional superhero. (To read more about Noah and his special connection to Martina, check out this month’s Student Spotlight.)
In November of 2020, Martina left Ohio and moved to Madrid, Spain, where she has continued her work as an SLP, providing teletherapy to toddlers living in Latin America. A natural entrepreneur, she also recently founded a website called “Alma de Fono” (or “Speech Soul” in English) which serves as a Spanish-language resources for deaf educators and parents of children with hearing loss.
As Martina looks ahead to a long and fruitful career as a Speech-Language Pathologist, she credits her professional success—and, more importantly, her commitment to helping others—to OVV.
“Ohio Valley Voices is truly special to me,” Martina concludes. “It played an important role in my decision to become an SLP and helped me grow in so many ways as a professional and as a person. I will always be grateful for the opportunity it gave me. OVV helped me find my true passion.”