“I made it back to the US on December 15th after 22 hours in flight. Jet lag and the holidays followed quickly! My colleagues, (known affectionately as Dr. Brad and Dr. Kie by the Bhutanese) were able to stay on another week or two after my departure. We will be meeting up January 16th to reflect on “lessons learned” and plans for the future.
The most lasting legacy of this trip for me was an appreciation for all that we have here in the US (and may take for granted). This includes a variety of materials we use as speech therapists, but also basic requirements of a therapeutic-learning environment, e.g. adequate heating, lighting, a workable table/chair set-up for adult-child interaction, and reduced distractions/interruptions when trying to assess children and counsel parents. I also appreciated having taken Maret Wilson’s seminar on “Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Populations” right before I left, which prepared me for working with interpreters and how to use more alternative assessment methods. There are approximately 12 different languages spoken in Bhutan given its isolated, mountainous topography. Most children before the age of five speak one of these twelve “mother tongues”. Upon entrance into “PP” (the equivalent of kindergarten or the first year of school), children learn both the national language (Dzongka) and English. Most typically developing children are thus trilingual by the age of 7 years and most professionals whom I worked alongside spoke several languages, including Nepali, Hindi, English and at least 3-4 Bhutanese languages.
The country is considered “developing” and they have many world-wide agencies helping them in areas of health, education, economic growth, and environmental and cultural preservation. One of the more active agencies includes UNICEF which is involved in establishing early intervention centers. During our stay we met with UNICEF staff, and Dr. Berman toured one such center. Future efforts to bring speech therapy to the country will likely involve collaboration with such agencies and with the Ministry of Education, which together can plan and deliver service across the many different regions of Bhutan.
My role this year was more of information gathering and to expose Bhutanese professionals to our field of speech therapy. In addition to presenting to about 75 people over a three-day conference (many of whom had to ride buses for 2-3 days to get to our location), my team was observed and videotaped by teachers, para-educators, and hospital staff during consultations at the country’s only developmental clinic and at a newly formed agency supporting parents of children with special needs: Ability Bhutan Society. We also met Ministers of Health, Education, and even the current queen of Bhutan. Future efforts will likely include fund-raising in 2013 and a return trip in 2014. Given many children whom I assessed were severely impaired communicators with neurologically-based problems or syndromes, future efforts will need to specifically address alternative-augmentative communication, and parent education with respect to realistic goals of intervention.”