During summer 2019, MS student Allyson Mitchell had the opportunity to work with Hope Speaks, a nonprofit agency dedicated to working with children with communication disorders and their families in Uganda. She shares about her experience:
On my first day as a graduate clinician in Uganda, I shared a 10’x10’ room with three other clinicians, two of us to a mattress on the concrete floor which we also shared with our translators, clients and their mothers. Outside, a dozen mother-child duos waited on plastic white chairs coated with the inescapable red dirt of Uganda, sharing stories of challenges and breakthroughs with their children and finding common ground -- nearly all of them walked to the clinic, children strapped to their backs. The kids from the nearby slum peered inside. Wondering what these mzungus (white people) were doing with those untouchable people, they beckoned for our attention. Inside, we played: singing, blowing bubbles, and reading books.
During my two-month summer placement with Hope Speaks, I gained experience in free community clinics such as this one, but also schools, orphanages, private clinics and within client’s homes. Due to the immense need for services but lack of speech pathologists, Hope Speaks’ clients represent everything from stuttering and language disorders, pediatric feeding, voice and TBI. I learned from teams of professors, professional speech pathologists and other students from around the country who offered diverse perspectives and treatment ideas. One way that we collaborated this summer was by partnering with psychologists to offer support for the mothers of clients and provide a safe place to discuss the rejection and stigmatization they experience. My clinical experience was broad, dynamic and exciting, with excellent supervisors and teachers along the way.
My experience in the speech-language pathology M.S. program greatly helped me prepare and provided significant support at every step in my journey to and from Uganda. The clinical staff was encouraging as I explored the possibility of going to Uganda, and continued to be wonderful resources for me while I was overseas. I received a travel award from the department which helped offset some costs. Additionally, my on-campus clinical experiences and coursework helped prepare me to work with translators, seek cultural competence, and to understand the nature, presentation, and options for treatment of many disorders. While I continue to miss Uganda and treasure my experience there, I am excited to apply what I learned there to my clinical practice now and in the future.