Thursday, August 13, 2009

Looking back

With all the excitement of our final day, the rush to fit everything in - the meetings, the celebrations, the packing and the (extremely necessary) sleep - the final post had to wait until my feet were back on Canadian soil and my eyes were ready to open after a well-deserved day of rest.

The main goal of this trip was a clinical experience. An experience none of us would ever have gotten in Canada. Though few of us in the program had been lucky enough to observe for a half day at a cleft lip/palate or VPI clinic in London, the observations could never provide us with practical, hands-on experience in the area of cleft lip and palate. In Ontario, there are specialized teams at particular hospitals in only a few cities that even treat these children. There are a few very specialized speech-language pathologists working on these teams that get to be there from the beginning and intervene from birth. Afterall, in Canada these children are caught so early - intervention is at hand at the earliest moment and is accessible to any family that needs it.

A traditional placement might afford you some experience with a variety of clients - children of all shapes and sizes with all sorts of histories. But there is no traditional placement available to us that would allow us to intervene with this special population to work on resonance, compensatory articulation, nasality - not in such a direct, specialized, tangible way. We were right there, doing the therapy, assessing these children with feeding, speech and language difficulties - babies a few months old, babies with syndromes, teenagers with unrepaired clefts. We would be lucky to have even observed such intervention in Canada.

As a clinician in Canada, I am taking this experience and carrying it with me through every child I treat. I have truly learned what it means to collaborate with clients and families within a specific culture and to adapt my approach to fit the structural and functional abilities of each individual client. These very specific and special cases challenge us to think outside our box of "typical intervention" - out of our norms, out of our textbooks and out of our comfort zone. While traditional placements challenge us to put our studies into practice, this placement challenged what we know about typical (English!) development and what we take for granted about the typical children we see for intervention. It truly opened my eyes to special cases and our role as professionals in their development.

How do you do speech therapy with a teenager with a gaping hole in the roof of her mouth? I would never have had to ask myself that question in a typical placement, but I asked it Peru - and we answered it. We worked it out. We faced this huge challenge and I learned more about what it means to make a sound than I ever could have at home. I learned how difficult it can be, and I learned how valuable those skills are.

Placements always challenge us. Placements always aim to have us apply what we know how to do. We know how to do these things for children with cleft lip/palate - we are taught how to do these things; but when would we ever have the opportunity to use it without this placement in Peru? Likely never. I wish that everyone could have this opportunity to grow and experience this professional development. It is enlightening as a clinician to put your expertise into practice and to know that you have dipped your feet in to every area of your field, so that you know where you want to practice and you can find your nishe. Afterall, we all have the brains but we each have special gifts that lead us in different directions. How would you know where to go if you didn't know what your options were?

Thank you, Western, for the experience. For the opportunity to integrate my profession with social justice, participate in an interdisciplinary approach, gain critical knowledge about how SLPs practice in other countries, and bring our knowledge to a group of professionals and families alike that were eager to learn from us. It was an honour to bring them everything we could, but it was a greater pleasure to learn everything we did from each of them. I am a better professional - and a better person - for it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

the last hoorah...

Something I've come to realize about myself over the course of this clinical and cultural experience is that I still have so much to learn as a professional. There are so many nuances that can only be learned during a therapy session and as you get to know your client. These things cannot be learned from a textbook.

Another realization, perhaps on a deeper level, is that I do not want a predictable existance. I do not want to get so comfortable in my job that I surround myself in some kind of protected bubble where I am oblivious to the needs of the world. I want to make myself available for opportunities to serve abroad and offer my expertise where needed. As we have all come to realize over the last two weeks, we, as students and professionals, gain so much from experiences like this. We have all struggled with the feeling that we are gaining more than we are giving.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Una verdadera maravilla del mundo

The whole group is in Cuzco. The ladies from Western are currently enjoying a relaxed lunch in an internet cafe in the main square of the city. We have had a couple of jam-packed days!

We arrived in Cuzco very early on Saturday morning. After a looooong nap, we went horse-back riding in the mountains. Talk about fun! My horse's name was Chavo (slang term for guy in Spanish). After getting used to being on a horse, it was a great hour and a half. We got to see the rugged scenery of the Andes, which was quite breathtaking. After that we had the chance to take a photo of the whole city from high up on one of the cliffs. Then we got to explore the city a little bit. I get the impression that Cuzco is more like what people expect when they think of Peru... nestled in the mountains with Spanish style architecture. Finally the whole group of students (forty plus) with Solidarity in Action went out to dinner. A great way to finish the day.

On Sunday, we went to Machu Picchu. It is very deserving of its designation as one of the 7 new wonders of the world. It really is indescribable. I spent the time trying to imagine the city as it was before Fransico Pizarro and his conquistadores came to South America, and how it would have looked like when it was full of Incans (instead of back-pack clad tourists). It was tougher than I expected to tour, though. There were hundreds of stairs, and many were quite steep. We all certainly got a workout yesterday... but it was more than worth it. It was a day I will never, ever forget.

Gracias a todos!
We´ve finished up our week in Armomizar and I think the consesus is that we feel we have gained so much more than we have given. There are so many differences between Canadian and Peruvian culture that have allowed us to see and try things we may never have had the chance to back at home. The biggest contrast I´ve noted is the absence of strict confidentiality rules. We´ve all signed our lives away and made oaths to keep our lips sealed about client matters once we leave work. While I feel protected by the confidentiality laws we have at home, the open clinical environment here has allowed us to feel closer to our clients and given us the opportunity to see much more than we would have in a Canadian clinic. From what we have experienced, a typical Peruvian "consent" consists of a simple "Do you mind if we watch?" en espanol of course while a smile and a "si, si" from the client is the equivalent to their signature. We´ve been lucky enough to get to watch many different professionals, have teams of 3 clinicians working with each client and to involve entire families in therapy sessions. Everyone here has been so open to our presence that it has given us a broad variety of learning opportunities that I´m not sure we could have gained elsewhere. Raul, our Peruvian trip leader has told us many times that Canadians are almost too polite and Peruvians expect much more openness, we shouldn´t been afraid to ask questions. It has been a freeing experience to adopt this Peruvian way for the short time we have been here and to not worry about whether we have formal, signed consent for every client we work with or observe. While we as Canadians, have been careful to post only pictures where clients aren´t identifiable, I´m sure if we asked, we get a simple, "Si, si."

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Scattered Thoughts

On Finishing at the Clinic
From Sue and Taz

Final good-byes were offered to kids, families and Armonizar professionals and staff.
Tears were shed, hugs, kissed, cards and gifts were exchanged. It was obvious that despite our short visit and language barriers positive relationships were established.

When we reflect on our week, we are all feeling that we have gained far more than we have provided - even in light of the fundraising, donations, hard work, preparation, Spanish lessons, hours spent developing tools and resources, rehearing in-services in Spanish, preparing and providing assessment and treatment sessions .........

So what do we think we´ve gained ....well to begin with a new found respect and appreciation for the challenges that professionals in developing nations deal with and work around everyday, a greater sense of thankfulness for what we have in Canada, an understanding of the meaning and nature of human relationships, an awareness that professionals here take on huge voluntary committments to clinics like Armonizar (where the ENT, dentists, SLP, geneticist, pediatrician all offer their professional services on a volunteer basis at evening consultations). A true testament that the sum is greater than the individual parts, and a living example of solidarity in action. We are sure that the students will share their own personal reflections regarding their week later in the blog!

We finished the day with a concert by local Peruvian musicians. Be sure to check out the FlickR account for a short video clip of the concert! Early night as we have to be up and out to the airport by 3:00 am to get to Cusco.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Lost in translation...un peu...

I have kept note of some touching moments and some humourous moments that I hope will bring a smile to readers.

Some things that have struck me...

One of our clients, a little girl who brings a great attitude and a big smile to speech therapy, informed us that she and her mother woke up at five o'clock in the morning to ride a bus for three hours to reach the clinic. Talk about dedication. A three hour bus ride for a one hour speech therapy session led in somewhat broken Spanish by two Canadian students. Talk about trust. These families value our services. They believe that we have something to offer their child, and place their faith and trust in us. What an honour for us.

Another client came to session with beaded bracelets and rings that she had made for Jana, Sue, and me. This was after only one assessment session with her. We had not even begun therapy yet and she was already bringing gifts of appreciation. I have witnessed a lot of this here in Lima. Grateful parents and children offering us gifts and hugs and kisses on the cheek at the start and end of each session. I think it puts our minds at ease; it reminds us that, even though we can't 'fix' the communication problem or answer all of the parents' questions, they do genuinely appreciate any help we can give.

The girls and I have spent a lot of time reflecting on our cohesion as a team. We have benefitted from conducting therapy in pairs, and could not imagine it any other way. We have all our had our moments of uncertainty regarding our clinical skills or language abilities, but we've pulled together and kept each other going. Each of us plays a crucial role within the team, whether it's to provide comic relief, translation, a hug, or a reminder that, "We know a lot more than nothing!" What a great experience.

Some funny moments?

In her interactions with parents, clinic staff and cab drivers, Sue will throw in expressions like, "un peu" and "so" amidst her fairly fluent Spanish (she really is quite good!). This has provided us all with comic relief and I think it has started to rub off on the rest of us, un peu....

"Student Clinician"
A certain supervisor, who shall remain nameless, signed a "SOAP note" with the title "Student Clinician" instead of her own credentials. Talk about relating to your students! It had us all chuckling.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Aqui vamos...

I was unsure of what to write about in this, my first blog entry. The others suggested that perhaps I discuss the benefits and challenges of being the "translator" of the group. Here goes...

Of the 6 of us, I do speak the most Spanish. This definitely brings some advantages. I can easily convey what it is I want to say to the clients, their families, the staff at Armonizar, and even cab drivers! Coupled with that is my ability to understand what they tell me. It definitely facilitates the therapeutic process and makes interviewing families so much easier... I can't imagine how I would deal with it if I couldn't speak the language. I definitely take my hat off to the others for their patience, their persistence and their creativity!! I may do a lot of the talking, but I still couldn't imagine doing this without the others. You ladies are awesome!

The downside to the translation piece is the sheer exhaustion. I feel like my brain is split in half right now and as a result, neither half can operate as quickly or sometimes as effectively. It's always funny when I start forgetting words in English. Being pulled in multiple directions for translation purposes is tiring... but I know that it is all worth it!

I've been speaking Spanish since I was ten years old and it's something I've often taken for granted. I've been fluent for most of my life, so it's just a part of me. But I've never really used this part of me for such a worthwhile purpose. I never thought that when I was struggling to learn different verb conjugations (I still shudder at the thought of all those darn irregular ones) that they would come in so handy for a professional opportunity like this. I am truly grateful that I have this skill and that I can use it to help other people.

However, I am still looking forward to telling all my family in Mexico about how much I've been translating and how much Spanish I've been speaking :)

Hasta luego!