Heather Flowers - Oaxaca, Mexico
While in Oaxaca, I was part of the Los Ninos de Oaxaca program. Our focus was on directly observing the cultural and developmental differences between children at orphanages an Oaxaca and children in Michigan, as well as planning activities to stimulate development. Furthermore, once we arrived at our orphanage site, we were given the charge to teach basic English to the children, when most of us have minimal or no Spanish abilities. At the orphanage I worked at, Casa Hogar, there were many children with various disabilities including communication disorders. In the first grade classroom where I worked, there was a little boy named Vicente with a hearing disorder. He was an intelligent child; however, he had not received the accommodations necessary to excel in a classroom designed for students with normal hearing. His friends and peers did not have a way to communicate with him except for basic gestural communication. In many regards, he was pushed aside and excluded from class and social interaction.
My first day with Vicente was one of the most frustrating experiences of my life. I had no way of communicating with him except for head nods and could not understand any of what he tried to communicate to me. He ran out of the classroom screaming twice, when he needed to get my attention, and did not engage in classroom activities. The second day did not improve much except for the fact that he stayed in the classroom. During this period, I received a packet of basic signs Vicente used for communication. That night I practiced the ones most applicable to the classroom setting, and starting the next day I began to use them. I will not pretend it was an immediate transformation, but by establishing a communication system he gradually began to trust me, and slowly I began to understand basic communication from him. He stayed in the classroom, was engaged in class activities, and became affectionate. Watching Vicente's behavior transform over the course of those three weeks as a result of improved communication, affirmed my commitment to pursuing a career in speech pathology.
Three weeks was not nearly enough time to perfect communication; however, it was enough time to show a child how much I cared by simply attempting communication. It was also enough time for me to experience the frustration that results from a lack of ability to communicate. I was able to see the way deafness, among other communication disorders, had negatively affected the lives of these children in the absence of treatment. It made me realize just how important communication is to development and how greatly I will be able to affect the lives of children through a career in speech therapy.