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Kids with speech difficulties finally get help

Children with cleft lip and palate can get surgery in Guatemala. While not easy to arrange, it is at least possible to travel to urban centers and connect up with visiting surgeons who perform the surgery. Speech therapy, on the other hand, is non-existent in rural Guatemala. When the Community Health Workers found out that Julie Smith was studying speech pathology, they spoke to her about the many children in the villages who had had surgery for their congenital cleft lip and palate but were still unable to talk. Julie is a student in the Bilingual Master’s Program in Speech Language Pathology at Teachers College, Columbia University. The CHWs were eager to learn from her, and they proposed a course, including teachers, mothers and children who were affected with communication disorders.In order to take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity, the CHWs networked with other programs throughout Peten and were able to host 12 children and their parents, 7 teachers and CHWs from around the region for a three day workshop. Julie and her classmate Grace Frutos (who is an Ecuadorian native) trained the CHWs and teachers in basic anatomy and physiology, speech sound production & development, speech errors, pre- and post- surgery evaluation and therapy relevant to cleft palate speech. Then, using the Spanish language materials, books and games developed by the Leaders Project at Teachers College, the teachers and CHWs were guided in training the moms to provide speech therapy for their children. All participants were thrilled with the new knowledge they obtained. One young man in particular made great strides – he now reads from the bible in front of the congregation every Sunday.

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