During the fall 2016 semester, the Student Organization of Communication Sciences chose to further the organization’s ties with an initiative started by Connective Link Among Special Needs Programs. By raising funds from bake sales, SOCS raised enough money to contribute to the purchase of a bus for the deaf individuals in Zambia who otherwise travel up to two hours on foot, one-way, to a church in Lusaka that helps communication access to the country’s deaf population.
CLASP is a non-profit charity with the mission to “create sustainable systems for individuals to access rehabilitation services, while duly creating awareness around special needs.” According to Communication Sciences and Disorders Professor Dr. Cindy Gill Sams, CLASP has been hard at work in Zambia since 2007 in order to provide speech therapy and deaf education for the pediatric and adult populations who have communication-hindering disabilities.
At first, American volunteers provided therapy treatment during trips to Zambia. However, after collaboration with American Universities, a Master’s program was initiated in order to educate Zambian citizens so they could sustain therapy treatment themselves.
Collaborating with CLASP and the University of Zambia in Lusaka to begin the program in 2013, TWU’s Department of Communication Sciences Professors Dr. Gill Sams, Dr. Sneha Bharadwaj, Dr. Sarah Wainscott and Dr. Laura Green began holding Master-level courses for the Zambian students through distance learning technology. Once the program was completed in December of 2015, 18 Zambian students earned their Master of Education in Speech-Language and Communication Disorders degree and were able to continue the much-needed services to the population.
In the summer of 2013, Dr. Gill Sams visited the church in Lusaka, where she realized how invested the church became in the education and inclusion of the deaf population who were previously outcasts. At the time of the graduation, there were 40 individuals who made their way to the church to develop a means of communication.
In order to sustain the education of practicing and future speech therapists, a few of the students needed to obtain their PhD to be able to begin a department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Zambia. CLASP opened applications, which resulted in two young men being chosen to enroll at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in August of 2016 to earn their Doctorate of Communication Sciences and Disorders.
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette is covering the tuition cost for the two Zambian therapists, as well as providing housing and a $300 monthly graduate assistant stipend, which the men send back home to replace their regular monthly salary they are missing out on to obtain their Doctorate degrees.
In addition to raising funds for the purchase of a bus, SOCS is also continuing to raise funds in order to bring another Zambian speech therapist to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to obtain her Doctorate of Communication Sciences and Disorders. SOCS member and Communication Sciences junior, Dorothy Henking donated the fees needed for the application requirements for the university. If the additional funds are raised for the third Zambian student to travel to the United States, she will begin the doctoral program in August of 2017.
The 2016-2017 SOCS officers offered their thoughts on the Zambia project and the opportunity to contribute on a global scale. Senior Communication Sciences and Disorders major and SOCS President Kacie Stanfield said: “This project has helped broaden our scope of outreach beyond just our Denton/Dallas community. We are seeing how what we are learning everyday in the classroom is able to have such an impact on those in far away countries.”
Senior Communication Sciences and Disorders major and SOCS Social Chair Ariel Ramirez added: “We, as individuals, chose a career designed to help people – to serve and to create a better world for our clients and for ourselves. In doing that, CLASP helps people who share our dreams and goals. It helps create a world, not just a region, of hope, progress, and treatment.”
Karissa Dominguez, SOCS Vice-President and senior said: “Communication is extremely important in our society and to be able to provide a country who has little to no access to improve their quality of speech is incredible.”
Senior and SOCS Treasurer Anna Gershberg shared: “It’s incredible that a self-sustaining program, with professionally trained SLPs, is in progress and we want to aid with that process as much as we can.”
SOCS will be hosting a garage sale in Denton on March 25, where all of the funds will contribute to the travel cost for the third Zambian student. Senior and SOCS House of Representatives member, Joselyn Costilla concluded: “It amazed me when we would inform students from TWU about the project and right away we had people giving us their support. Other organizations are also looking into joining us to help meet our goal.”