Speech-Language Pathologists Aid Needy in Zambia
Oct. 21, 2010
Three speech-language pathologists from the UT Dallas Callier Center for Communication Disorders spent 10 days in Zambia this summer providing services to children and adults with special needs and sharing their expertise with medical and educational professionals in area clinics and hospitals.
Shannon Raby, a speech-language pathologist and faculty associate at the Callier Center, organized the trip to Southern Africa. Suzanne Bonifert, head of speech-language pathology at the Callier Center, and Amanda Graves, a communications specialist also at the Callier Center, joined Raby along with nine other speech-language pathologists from the Dallas area.
“A limited number of professionals in Zambia are trained to meet the special needs of those living with disabilities,” said Raby. “There are no speech pathologists in the country that specialize in the evaluation and treatment of persons with speech, language, cognitive communication and swallowing disorders.”
Raby became interested in providing speech health care in Zambia after visiting the country during a mission trip in 2007.
“As a speech-language pathologist, I took note of the limited population of children with disabilities and started asking some hard questions,” Raby said. “’Where are the children with disabilities? Where are the children that are similar to the disabled children that I work with every day?’”
The answers disturbed Raby and spurred her into action.
“In Zambia, children with disabilities are considered a burden or curse. They are often abandoned or worse,” Raby said. “Those that are rescued continue to battle against the odds with poor medical support and living conditions.”
A year after her first visit, Raby returned to Zambia and spent a month conducting research and establishing ties with physicians and educational leaders. Together, they developed a program to provide specialized training for Zambians working with children and adults with special needs.
The effort led Raby to establish a nonprofit organization called CLASP (Connective Link Among Special Needs Programs) International, which is partnering with the University of Zambia and the University Teaching Hospital in the capital city Lusaka to incorporate speech-language pathology in their health care curriculum.
In August, Raby and her team of volunteers visited the university and hospital to share their knowledge with medical professionals. They also visited several clinics and schools to work with children and adults with disabilities and led a three-day camp for children with craniofacial disorders.
“It was truly life-changing to see the incredible needs for children with special needs in Zambia,” said Bonifert. “It was an amazing experience to be a part of this team and to help make a difference.”
Raby, who has returned to Zambia every summer since she first visited three years ago, is already organizing the next trip.