The Toronto Addis Ababa Academic Collaboration (TAAAC) has been working to strengthen the capacity and sustainability of various programmes at Addis Ababa University (AAU) for over a decade. It has helped to develop the psychiatry department, emergency medicine, and even library sciences, just to name a few. So, when AAU needed support developing the first speech-language pathology department in Ethiopia, they knew who they needed to turn to.
TAAAC planned on sending professionals from the Toronto area to provide instruction in speech therapy, including hands-on experience. I was invited to lead the aural rehabilitation course. In May 2018, I entered a conference room in Addis Ababa and met the 17 students enrolled in the first speech-language pathology class in Ethiopia. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the students had a working knowledge of ear anatomy, phonetics, and hearing technology and was therefore able to spend the majority of my three weeks in Ethiopia focusing on the nitty-gritty of how to run an intervention session.
After a week and a half of lectures and a very successful midterm, the students saw their first clients. In pairs, they worked to set goals, plan, and execute therapy sessions with children sent to the University by a local hearing aid clinic. Most of the children had been identified at three or four years old, which would be considered late for children in most high-income countries, but they all wore hearing technology. With the exception of one child, none of them had ever received speech or language intervention, so we began with assessments.
After a week and a half of lectures and a very successful midterm, the students saw their first clients. In pairs, they worked to set goals, plan, and execute therapy sessions with children sent to the University by a local hearing aid clinic.
There are dozens of languages spoken in Ethiopia and, as far as I could find, there were no assessments in any of them. I provided the class with Cochlear’s Integrated Scales of Development, a developmental checklist for children under four years old. As a class the students translated it and discussed whether they thought the milestones would be appropriate for Ethiopian children. I hope that, in the future, these students will continue to develop their understanding of language development and create valid and usable assessments for the populations they work with.
Each pair of students saw their client for three 30-minute sessions over a week and a half. Although we did not have much time, the students learned from observing each other and the diverse group of clients who were seen. These clients were the first children with whom the students had worked, making the process very easy for me to supervise. No bad habits to break!! The students may have been shy at first, but their colours shone when they realised how creative and fun they could be.
In January 2019, the first Ethiopian speech-language pathologists earned their degrees and introduced an entirely new field of care to their country. They will need to advocate for themselves, for their patients, and for the field of speech-language pathology. It will be a challenge, and I am so excited to see where this adventure takes them next.
University of Toronto