Speech is something many of us take for granted. For some, it comes naturally. For others, it is a daily struggle.
We, at CIF, have our ABLE program, which focuses on physical therapy for children and families throughout Cambodia. ABLE was started with the belief that children with disabilities need to be included in family based care. Physical therapy practices have existed in Cambodia since 1981. However, speech therapy is not yet recognized as a profession to this day.
We sat down with the Director of the Organization to Improve Communication and Swallowing Therapy Services in Cambodia (OIC), Chenda and OIC University Strategy Manager, Ruth Bryce. OIC is the very first speech therapy program here in Cambodia. They also provide help with swallowing and eating. As of 2013, there were no speech therapists in Cambodia. Though there were organizations working closely with children with disabilities, they lacked the training resources to provide speech therapy even though it was a serious need so OIC began.
First, let’s define speech therapy:
Ruth says “Speech therapy provides support to people with communication difficulties (eg. difficulties with expressing themselves, or understanding other people). We also provide support to people with swallowing and eating difficulties (could be all the way from babies right through to older people).”
OIC explains speech therapy as two things: language and speech. One of the first things they do in training is differentiate between speech and language.
Language in this context is social communication, such as grammar, stuttering, how you put words together, expression and reception and literacy. Speech is sounds, movement, and articulation. Something that is covered less is cognition – intellectual ability and processing (eg. memory). It is often where children with autism struggle, as well as, social use of language. You might be able to piece sentences together but you are not able to understand what the other person is trying to communicate.
Why is speech therapy even a need?
OIC believes speech is an essential part of being human. Having speech therapy not only benefits the client, but this service makes a better life for everyone – families, parents, friends and communities.
Ruth said “We know it’s possible for them [people with speech disabilities] to be full members of society – they just need a little more support and reintegration.”
Communication challenges are a hidden disability, a hidden struggle. OIC believes that communication is not only a human right, but it is at the very essence of what makes us who we are.
Speech therapy provides the support needed for communication.
Since this is a hidden disability, many do not realize it is a need. This can lead to many people being ignored, discriminated against, and simply left behind. You can not see it from the outside, this can lead to a misunderstanding, which leads to more judgement, as well as frustration and impatience. It makes those struggling with communication difficulties more vulnerable and at risk for abuse.
In Cambodia, physical therapy and prosthetics have a long history and much more investment. However, speech therapy and occupational therapy are missing.
A statistic based on data from 2009 claimed that 600,000 Cambodians had speaking difficulties. And at that time, there was no one working with speech difficulties. This statistic does not even cover people with any mental health challenges or difficulties receiving language; for example, someone who has had a stroke not being able to understand what someone is communicating to them.
Also, Ruth said to look at this statistic: 1 in 8 Americans have difficulties with speech. Apply that statistic to Cambodia and you would have more than 2 million people in Cambodia with communication difficulties.
Difficulties in Cambodia are now being recognized, which is wonderful, but OIC wants to ensure that people with speech difficulties are included in that.
Just think of being able to communicate with your child for the first time! Seeing the results gives parents hope for a brighter future for their children. However, many are never seeing the results, so how do they know what to look for?
Stay tuned for our next blog post to learn more about the work OIC is doing in Cambodia!
Join them! They have volunteer positions locally here in Cambodia or remotely.
They are always looking for speech therapists.
Many different fundraising opportunities.
Or simply talk to them if you have personal experience.