Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Harding Group Serves and Learns

Jill Taylor and Kritz

Lauren Davenport and Rita

Jill Taylor describes her experience at Namwianga as “life-changing.” Laura Davenport calls it “an amazing opportunity and experience.” Both were part of the third group from Harding University’s Speech/Language Pathology program to study and serve at Namwianga. Eleven graduate students and three supervisors spent six weeks in May and June working with babies and toddlers at the Haven and Eric’s House orphanages.

Dr. Dan Tullos and Dr. Beckie Weaver lead the HIZ Path group. Tullos says the program gives students an opportunity for multicultural clinical therapy practice in a setting they would not ordinarily experience. The students also provide needed services in an environment where speech therapy is a new concept. The students receive clinical credit for their time here.

Their days are spent at the orphanages working on language enrichment and stimulation with the children. They encourage the babies to imitate sounds and words, which is a part of normal speech development. They also encourage the premature babies to crawl, interact, and reach for objects.

Language experiences often occur in groups of six to ten children. These sessions resemble cradle roll classes where the children are shown pictures and objects and are encouraged to sing, repeat words, and interact with the teacher. The Zambian caregivers listen in on these sessions and are encouraged to continue the activities after the Harding students leave.

Babies and children identified with special needs such as cerebral palsy or autistic tendencies receive specific and intensive therapy. Another special needs group consists of premature babies and others with swallowing or feeding problems who are either unable or uninterested in eating. The therapists stimulate facial and neck muscles to help the babies swallow and feed normally.

Dr. Tullos tells the story of Hamilton, a pudgy, active toddler in this year’s group of children. Last year Hamilton was near death when the HIZ Path group arrived. He was not eating and was not expected to live through the night. With therapy provided by the Harding students, Hamilton began to eat and thrive. Now Hamilton is benefiting from language therapy and is learning to imitate sounds. “We feel like we had a big part in saving his life,” says Tullos.

Other benefits of the speech and language therapy are just as impressive, if not as dramatic. Roy Merritt comments about the effect of the speech therapists on the little boys at Eric’s House: “They turn them into chatterboxes! The little rascals are talking in complete sentences, saying things like, ‘Please may I go into town with you?’”

Harding’s speech pathology efforts are unique in Zambia. Tullos and Weaver hope that Harding can eventually help George Benson Christian College develop a speech therapy program so that Zambians can provide the services to their own people.

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