We have been very lucky to have Emily, a newly qualified speech & language therapist, and Paige, a studying therapist, volunteer with us in Kenya to offer speech therapy for the very first time in the special needs school we support.
We all knew we were undertaking a challenge, as speech & language therapy is barely heard of in rural Kenya, and certainly not understood. The main objective we set ourselves therefore was to help the staff at the school understand speech & language therapy in a practical context, showing how this can play a part in caring for the students at the special needs school. Read Emily’s account of her project to understand how they got on:
Emily, Kenya 2017 – “In short, I absolutely loved my time volunteering in Kenya! Before flying out, I doubted how much I would actually be able to achieve however, I feel the whole trip exceeded my expectations.
I have learnt a great deal about travelling, working with others at frustrating times, cerebral palsy, learning disability and being a speech and language therapist! I have developed my ability to think on my feet and work independently which are the two main things I wanted to gain for myself through this trip.
The activities outside of the school were also fantastic and there is so much to see and do in and around Watamu. Paige and I went on safari, to Nairobi to see the giraffe centre and elephant orphanage, to the beach, to bars and restaurants, on a snorkelling trip and we visited Hell’s Kitchen (a mini Grand Canyon).
It really was the trip of a lifetime which I shall never forget and I can’t thank Outreach International enough for all of their organisation and support before, during and after my trip”.
We would now love to quickly follow up by sending more speech and language therapy volunteer to the school. For more information about this project read the project description, or send us an online application form to set up a chat.
Overall, the application process was really good. During my interview, I did not feel under pressure to book the trip and felt Steve really listened and understood what I wanted to gain from the experience and what skills I could offer. We discussed other possible projects but came to a mutual agreement on which project would suit me best.
It did not necessarily feel like an interview but instead, it felt as though we worked together as a team to ensure that I was comfortable, happy and placed in the right project where I could demonstrate my skills. Outreach International provided me with lots of information prior to even booking the trip and were happy to wait until I was 100% sure that I wanted to go. This made me trust the organisation which I think is important when booking such a big trip!
Before departing, I frequently sent questions about the trip to Steve which were always answered quickly. If I needed a more in-depth conversation, Steve was always happy to call or face time me.
The welcome pack which was sent out after booking was also great and made me feel excited about the trip. The pre-trip briefing was great and Steve showed us lots of pictures, maps and gave us lots of information about the general area and the school through video chat.
Even at this point, I felt as though I knew Watamu very well! Safety information and information on where to buy food, where the shops and restaurants were and how to get around was also given and was very useful to know! The only thing I wasn’t prepared for is for what speech and/or language difficulties we might see but after all, Paige and I were pioneers and it was our job to figure this information out for ourselves!
Shiru was brilliant and very friendly. She arrived first thing in the morning after we landed and gave us a tour around the area which was again, very helpful. She was very supportive and helped us to organise trips on the weekends. I felt as though I trusted Shiru and could count on her if anything were to go wrong.
The accommodation was exceptionally nice and felt just like a holiday villa! We moved villa’s after our first week to make room for another volunteer however, this was not a problem. We had all the facilities we could need and the swimming pool was an added bonus. I felt very safe in the accommodation as it was gated and had security guards at all times.
The children in the school are mainly put in to classrooms depending on whether they have a physical disability or a hearing impairment. The classrooms themselves are organised in a strange way as you may find children of all ages and varying abilities in each classroom.
In the infant cerebral palsy class for example the children ranged from around aged 6 to around age 18. The children also varied in their physical and intellectual ability. In this classroom, there were around 15-20 children but some others were much smaller. There is one teacher per classroom and a few teaching assistants to help out. There is also a deputy head, head teacher and teachers for the deaf.
The staff were very welcoming and friendly. At first, they didn’t quite understand what speech and language therapy is and it took a while and lots of explaining before they realised that we don’t just work on articulation of speech sounds.
We were also left on our own a lot of the time which was sometimes quite frustrating. However, instead of confronting them about this we decided to do as much as possible in the short space of time we had. As the weeks went on, the teachers became much more involved as their understanding of SLT increased and this was great to see. They also held a meeting at the end of our trip to express their thanks and well wishes towards us.
Before leaving for Kenya, Steve and I devised some goals for whilst Paige and I were out there and what the school could expect from us. This was useful to work towards and I feel Paige and I went above and beyond these expectations and achieved more than we thought possible!
Paige and I worked Monday to Friday from about 8am to 4pm. We did not necessarily have a timetable as we were often left to do our own thing. We therefore, spent most of our days working in the Infant Cerebral Palsy classroom where we would do different activities each day. This is because we felt we could make more of a difference to the children in this classroom in the short space of time we had. We had tea time around 10am and lunch around 12pm until 2pm however, these timings sometimes varied.
During our time in the school, we conducted a number of informal assessments to look at how well the children understand speech/English and how well they can express themselves. This then helped us to get to know how the children communicate best and what strategies we could put in place to help them further.
From these assessments, we then planned activities to work on a range of different skills. This included activities to work on letter sounds, logical thinking, spelling and writing and reading. We also provided some of the children with low-teach AAC (Alternative and Augmentative Communication) devices in the form of a communication book and cards.
As we were often left with the children all day, we also planned activities un-related to speech therapy. This included playing music and dancing, games and Paige even did some gymnastics (of sorts) with the more able-bodied children.
Despite working alone with the children, we did work together with the teacher of the Infant CP classroom and other teachers in the school. As they began to understand more about speech therapy, the teachers visited us to see what we were doing and we would discuss strategies to use with them. Some of the teachers from different classes would also come to us for advice and I occasionally visited another class to help teach speech and letter sounds.
Take as much as you can! You will see children with a range of abilities. There are some children with complex needs and others who are much more able in terms of communication and their physical ability.
Activities and resources to target a range of skills at varying levels are therefore useful. Picture cards will also probably become your best friend as they are easy to take with you and can target a range of different things. For example, we used letter cards to practise spelling, reading and speech sounds, every day object cards to test their understanding of English and Kiswahili, categorisation skills and their vocabulary and a pack of ‘Old Maid’ cards with lots of different occupations just to see what the children wanted to be when they grow up (the list goes on…).
It’s also important that you are comfortable working with cerebral palsy and so reading up on this area may be necessary (particularly if you are a student). Kiswahili apps are also useful and there are lots available which can be used offline. We sometimes found that the children didn’t know words in English (even simple ones such as ‘bed’) but knew them in Kiswahili.
Lots of explanation to the teachers about what SLT is and what you are doing is also very beneficial as SLT is still a relatively new thing over there.
For newly qualified SLT’s and SLT students, have confidence in your own ability and get stuck in!
The project would benefit from more SLT volunteers to continue the work of Paige and I in the future. They can help by continuing to raise awareness of what SLT is, providing low-tech AAC devices and providing day to day support for the children.
Dysphagia (swallowing) trained SLTs would also be beneficial as some of the children have poor posture when eating and drinking and it may also be beneficial to offer support to those feeding them. Those with knowledge of American sign language would also be useful as the sign language used in Kenya is very similar to American sign language.
I feel that I have made a very positive contribution to the project – even more so than expected! Not only did Paige and I successfully determine whether it would be beneficial to send more SLT volunteers over to Kenya, but we also raised awareness of the profession amongst teachers and taught them strategies to help the children’s speech, language and communication development.
Most importantly, I feel I made a positive contribution through the direct work with the children. It was clear to see that we had formed very good relationships with each of the children and provided them with lots of happiness. There were many times where the children’s faces lit up from teaching them how to spell their name to providing them with communication picture books and this was so rewarding to see.
Hopefully, with the items we left for them, the skills they have learnt from us and through the work of future SLT volunteers, the children will be able to communicate more effectively with others and integrate back in to society. It is great that I have been a part of their journey!
I can’t give enough praise to Outreach International and would HIGHLY recommend them to anyone thinking about volunteering abroad.
We would now love to quickly follow up by sending more speech and language therapy volunteer to the school.