Today I’m launching a new series focused on international speech therapy with guest posts from speech pathologists working all across the globe. I love to travel and I’ve always been interested in what speech pathologists do in other countries. Finally we’ll get a peek into what it’s like to work in other countries. Thanks for reading! ~Sarah
My name is Emily and I want to tell you all about this amazing experience I am in the middle of. I am currently volunteering in the Dominican Republic as a full time Speech Language Pathologist in a home for orphaned, abandoned and neglected children with an organization called Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (NPH). For a long time I had aspirations to work abroad, but never imagined at this capacity. About two years ago, I started a Google search looking for an opportunity to volunteer as an SLP, but more for a short period of time. When I came across the NPH website, I initially said “no way” to a year long commitment. “I have student loans, a good job and a good life here, I don’t want to leave that behind for that long.” But now I have been with NPH for 10 months and cannot imagine my life without this place.
Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos has nine homes in nine countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Each home takes long term volunteers for a variety of positions. Each home looks a little different, and have their own unique qualities, but one thing is all the same, they all feel like a big family. Our home in the Dominican Republic is one of the newest homes, was build in 2003 and has approximately 240 children living here. We currently have 10 volunteers working in a variety of fields throughout our campus and our home is very fortunate to have several therapist volunteers. A day in the life of my work in the DR would likely look different than in Mexico and certainly different than a SLP in Haiti. Most days I spend several hours in our special needs home, Casa San Marcos, where we have 12 kids living with a variety of disabilities; 4 with cerebral palsy, several more with mental retardation, and some with significant autism. My time there is mostly filled with working on language stimulation, oral motor development, and feeding and swallowing needs. Then I head to the school for a few hours where I do the “typical” school type therapy. We are fortunate enough to have our own school here on our property. I work with kids who have diagnosis’ of language, articulation, cognitive, and fluency disorders.
Also with the help of our previous Occupational Therapist and a recent high school graduate who works in the school, we are able to do some unique group therapy sessions. I think these will be my pride and joy this semester! The first group we call “Grupo Vocacional” (Vocational Group). This group is designed for teenagers here at NPH with learning disabilities, who need some more focused attention on how to live outside of NPH. The main goal of our group is to teach vocational skills, such as counting money, time management, scheduling, and real life problem solving. This group is made up of 4 teenage girls, who already have surprised us with their ability to work together to try to understand the world outside NPH. We are hoping at the end of the semester to take the group of girls into town to practice using their new developed skills to buy a few things at the grocery store. The other two groups take place in the first and second grade classrooms. They are designed to focus on teaching letter formation, sound development and understanding the names and sounds of the letters. One of the difficulties we volunteers have come across is that often children here do not learn the names of letters and their letter formation is poor. So we designed this group last semester to help foster these skills, the hope is that as these children get older there would be less of them who lack this skill.
My favorite thing about working here is absolutely the children and the direct impact I see that it makes on their lives. For example, one of my boys I like to call “Boo-Boo” struggles a lot in the classroom. We work several days a week together on reading, math concepts and articulation. Since he not only goes to our school but also lives here, I really get to help with the carryover from the therapy room to his home. Another thing I love, which may sound a little odd, is that I am given the opportunity to work on exactly what I see as the problem. Since we do no billing for therapy, and most of the countries we work in do not have local governing boards, it gives me the freedom to work where I see fit, even if it doesn’t necessarily fit exactly under speech therapy codes, for example the vocational group. Another great example is one of the girls in our special needs home has a sensory processing disorder and really struggles to brush her teeth. We currently do not have an occupational therapist on board, but because I do no billing and I have had some training and guidance in how to help with this, we spend at least 1 hour a week working on her sensory processing, which includes de-sensitizing her to a vibrating toothbrush and toothpaste. I am grateful for this freedom to explore new/different therapy techniques and to have to think on my feet more often with the resources we have.
The biggest challenge of working here certainly is that these kids are unique. There are a lot of behavior challenges related to their own individual histories, whether it be abuse, neglect, abandonment, and malnourishment. I work with several kids of “typical” disorders, that you would see anywhere else, but lay on these other challenges and it certainly makes my day more interesting.
The biggest reason I am writing this guest blog post for Sarah is because we need more help. The sad truth is that therapists come and go and more often than we would like, our homes go without a Speech-Language Pathologists (and/or other therapists) for six months or more. I was recently speaking with our International Volunteer Coordinator, who works with all nine of our homes, and she informed me that we have received NO SLP applicants to start in January, which means that several homes, yet again, will go without a therapist. I leave here in 8 months and am starting to think about the sad reality that there might not be someone to step in after me to continue building the foundation I have laid in therapy. What will happen to the ones who are 70% of the way to reaching their goals if not one else comes? It is a sad thought to me.
So I have to ask a favor to all of you reading this blog; to just think about it. At least think about fellow therapists in your life who could do work like this and pass this information along to them. I promise you that all the challenges that I face daily are completely erased when I see the love and joy that I find in these children’s eyes. Or when I get to hear for the first time a kid pronounce the “e” correctly. Or when one starts tolerating a new food texture. Or when another starts asking appropriate questions in a social situation. These are the things that help me realize a year of my life has been greatly spent here and that I would not change it for anything.
To find out more information about Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos follow this link: https://www.nph.org/
And to go directly to the volunteer program page, click on this link: https://www.nph.org/ws/volunteers/index.php?lang=en
Thanks for taking the time to read my post and for hearing me out!
Paz y Bien, Emily