Volunteering abroad as SLP

If you are a long time reader or follow me on Instagram, you may know that I have just returned from an SLP trip to Ghana.

Me with Sandy (the founder of Smiles for Speech), two SLP students, and Sonia, an SLP who helps teach, train and supervise the next SLPs across Ghana.

I love travel and I was delighted to have the opportunity to combine this love with my love for speech therapy. I traveled with Smiles for speech and the trip visited several sites, including a former refugee camp, an ABA school, a psychiatric hospital, an inclusive school and a community outreach clinic. The trip focused mainly on working with children with cerebral palsy, autism and other complex communication needs. You can read the description of the trip here.

Before our trip, there were only a few SLPs nationwide. One of the universities has just completed a class of future SLPs, but it had few courses taught by SLPs and no possibility of supervision or therapeutic practice. During our trip, we were paired with 1 to 3 students whom we helped to supervise, observe and teach during our stay. We partnered directly with the local university to do this, which was an important part of our whole trip.

Who is perfect for a trip like this?

Trips like this are best for experienced and confident clinicians, especially those who are familiar and comfortable with international travel. Indeed, you are working with extremely vulnerable populations, many of whom have complex disabilities, and you could be the first SLP with whom they interacted.

That means you need to make sure that you can provide competent, effective, research-based, and culturally appropriate recommendations and ideas.

Trips like this are probably not the best for people in their clinical year, SLP assistants or people who do not have a specific specialty appropriate to the trip you are considering. Trips like this should never be used as a practice or trial for certain therapeutic skills for the clinicians who go there.

Do you have advice on studying or choosing an organization or a trip?

The most important thing when choosing an organization is to make sure that you will offer lasting treatment and therapy. I recommend not investing in an organization that simply offers therapy and goes home. It is not the most efficient use of your time and money and often contributes to what the community considers you or other “strangers” to be the only person who can help their child. Instead, focus on enduring ideas such as training local SLPS, schools or families on the long-term things they can do to increase speech / language skills and functional communication skills. . This helped me to think about my role as a speaker and trainer rather than as an SLP providing direct therapy.

You should also focus on finding a trip specific to a clinical strength you have. For example, during my trip, we visited centers mainly specialized in autistic students or those with complex communication needs. It’s my favorite area of ​​practice and even then, I read a ton of research and textbooks before the trip to brush up on my skills. I have a lot of comfort working with children with high needs, so I felt that I could really contribute to this trip.

Then think about the language spoken where you are traveling. Make sure that you can communicate effectively in this language and if you cannot, that a qualified interpreter will travel with you. In Ghana, the national language is English and English is widely spoken, but we always had a translator to make sure everyone could understand us.

At the bottom of this article, I will include some links to organizations, but please note that I cannot speak fully of the experience they offer and I cannot recommend anything. Please do your research before registering!

What does the trip really look like?

The days are extremely long and busy. You will have to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I cannot say often enough that you will have to be somewhat comfortable and experienced with international travel. Things like time change, jet lag, and new foods can spoil the experience if you’re not prepared. You will need to be very flexible and culturally competent regarding the specific place you are going to.

For a day-by-day summary of my trip, click here to read the summary of my trip and see more photos of my stay in Ghana.

Which organizations travel with SLP groups?

Again, due to the complexity of adapting qualified SLPs to specific trips and my lack of experience with organizations other than Smiles for Speech, I cannot make any recommendations, but I want to give you some organizational ideas to give you a starting point. There are a LOT there so do your research! You can also consider traveling and working directly with a local organization instead of going with a larger SLP group.

In Ghana we have worked with MultiKids Africa and Autism Compassion Africa, two organizations that I can recommend that you can try to contact if you are directly interested in their work.

If you are specifically looking for organizations where you could travel as a member of a large group, see:
Smiles for speech
Therapy missions
Hope speaks

How much does a trip like this cost?

The cost of your trip will likely vary considerably depending on the location (Ghana is much more expensive to travel than a place like Jamaica, for example), the length of your stay and the organization by which you travel.

For my trip, we paid travel expenses that covered all meals, transportation and accommodation in addition to the cost of our flights, necessary vaccinations / drugs and travel insurance. The travel expenses for the specific trip I made were just under $ 2,000. During my stay, I spent fairly freely on drinks, food, souvenirs, laundry, and other experiences, and spent less than $ 400 in total on all optional extras.

What can I do to prepare for a trip like this?

Obviously, you must be prepared for international travel. Beyond that, I encourage you to do a ton of research on local culture and on successful programs in the country you are going to travel to.

For example, if you click here, here, or here, you can read some of the research I have read on training and children with disabilities in Ghana that I read before my trip. This research helped me learn about best practices for these types of trips.

I have also read several critical views on volunteering abroad so that I can be truly informed of some of the missteps involving trips like this, including White Saviorism, unsustainable approaches and culturally insensitive therapy . If you are on a similar trip, I strongly recommend that you research these topics.

I hope this will give you more information about volunteering abroad as an SLP! It was truly a life-changing experience that reminded me of the true impact of SLP on children, families and communities.

Again, if you want more information about my trip, including tons of photos and a daily summary, click here.

If you have traveled abroad as an SLP, PLEASE leave a comment below and share your experiences! It was incredibly difficult to find information on these types of opportunities before my trip and I would like to know that more organizations are doing this type of trip well.

Thanks for reading!

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