At the age of five, I vividly remember my first international journey to the Philippines with my parents in 1987. I can still remember the excitement I had riding on the airplane and arriving in Manila, the capital. I recall it being “HOT, HUMID and CROWDED!” Fortunately, we didn’t stay in Manila too long because our itinerary was bound for  Pamilican Island, Bohol where my mom grew up.

The best way I could describe Pamilican Island is to compare it to Gilligan’s Island! Back in 1987, the island did not have access to electricity from the mainland. At night we lit candles and hoped that it wasn’t too hot and uncomfortable so that we could sleep. We simply did not have the luxury of just turning on the air conditioner.  Despite these conditions at night and adjusting to drinking warm soda and water during the day, I do remember enjoying every minute of it! It was and still is a paradise island.

Why do I share this story with you? Well for starters, I thank my parents for this early experience because I believe this trip marked a milestone in my life that instilled my love for traveling; and secondly, I realized at a very early age that life in other countries such as the Philippines was “different.” At the time, I could not articulate in words what the differences were, but I knew that the resources that were readily available to us in the United States were not the same for everyone on Pamilican Island.

Over the past 10 years of my career, I had the honor and privilege of working as a traveling speech-language pathologist both nationally and internationally. As I traveled forming new friendships and learning about new cultures and languages, I also learned the capacity and practice patterns of speech-language pathology in the community for children/adults with special needs and people with disabilities.  As I had the opportunity to work in New Zealand, Cambodia, Guatemala and in the Philippines, I quickly learned that the role of speech-language pathologists varied within these countries.

During these amazing experiences was when I started developing a heart for speech-language pathology services at the global level, wanting to advocate for people with special needs in the education and medical sectors.

In 2012, I had the opportunity to work in the beautiful and lush country of NEW ZEALAND. I was employed by MidCentral District Health Board and served as a team member for the amazing Child Development Services teamIn this capacity, I was the sole pediatric hospital-based speech-language therapist specializing in feeding and swallowing disorders for the Manawatu region that served a population of 80,000 people. I provided home-health, outpatient, inpatient to NICU speech, language, feeding, and swallowing services to children from birth to 18:0 years of age. Over the course of two and a half years working in New Zealand, I was challenged to think outside of the box, take initiative, and create clinical pathways to best serve the children with communication and feeding/swallowing disorders.  

In 2016, I had the privilege of volunteering for a non-profit organization named, OIC CAMBODIA. The stellar OIC team was dedicated, motivated, and had an ambitious, but achievable mission of playing an integral role in developing the first speech-language pathology university program to train local Cambodians. During my time in Cambodia, speech-language pathology services within the education and healthcare sectors were non-existent. My role as a volunteer with OIC encompassed helping the team develop a program to empower rural community teachers to learn new strategies and techniques to educate their children with special needs. In addition to this, I supported the team in creating the first speech therapy clinic in Phom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, named Happy Kids Clinic. During this time, I had the honor and pleasure of contributing to the inception of this clinic which would provide the needed speech-language and occupational therapy services to Cambodian children with developmental disabilities.

“Every smile has a story” is the motto of Tess Unlimited in GUATEMALA. I have had the privilege of volunteering with this amazing non-profit organization for multiple missions in 2015 and 2019 by providing speech, feeding, and swallowing services for children born with cleft/lip and palate. I continue to help support Tess Unlimited with ongoing missions and return to Guatemala on a regular basis.

In 2017, I had the humbling invitation to serve as a speech-language pathologist Peace Corps Response Volunteer (PCRV) in the PHILIPPINES. In this capacity, as a PCRV, my assignment was two-fold; for the first part of my assignment, my time was spent at the University of Santo Tomas where I presented a short lecture on the special topic of Pediatric Feeding and Swallowing Disorders. In addition to this, I helped develop an outcomes-based graduate curriculum titled: Learning-Language Disabilities in School-aged to Adolescent students. I also mentored SLP interns during their final year of clinical practicums before they graduated as newly qualified speech-language pathologists. For the remainder of my assignment, I had the responsibility of developing a sustainable speech clinic at the Center for Excellence “Stepping Stone” – a non-profit private school. This clinic would serve the children within the local community. 

Collectively, these experiences have made me realize at the global level the need for continued advocacy for children and adults impacted by communication & swallowing disorders in the education and medical sectors.

Awareness and education is the first step in the right direction towards helping under-served populations around the world receive overlooked but important services for communication and swallowing disorders. However it also takes supporting action. Though many people would love to go overseas and help under-served communities around the world, for many reasons these opportunities may not be a realistic option.

I encourage anyone to help these incredible organizations by donating any monetary amount so that we can secure their efforts and undertakings by making a positive difference in the lives of people with communication and feeding/swallowing disorders.

Tess Unlimited  – Guatemala based NGO helping children and adults with cleft lip/palate receive surgery and speech therapy.

OIC Cambodia  – Cambodia based NGO working tirelessly to establish speech therapy university courses and jobs for Cambodians, raise awareness, and influence government policy.

Peace Corps – a US government service opportunity for motivated change makers to immerse themselves in a community abroad, working side by side with local leaders to tackle the most pressing challenges of our generation.