In 2015, VFF launched a speech therapy project for children born with hearing impairment to develop oral language skills. The speech therapist, Marina Escarda, is a volunteer for the project. She brings affection and laughter in the therapy sessions. With the help of volunteers and speech therapists like Marina Escarda, VFF USA is helping hearing impaired girls in rural India develop their speaking abilities
What are the difficulties encountered by deaf people in rural India?
In India people with hearing impairment become are isolated from the community. In my work every day, I see how people who work with me even limit their interactions to sign language or pointing only. For the deaf students, lip reading, sounds, and other “verbal” clues are important tools to understanding. Deaf students can make sound. Students face barriers both on and off the campus because of social norms and limited education. Even something as simple as a hearing aid, because it is a visual clue to both the deaf and non-deaf community holds a harsh stigma because of widespread superstitions in rural India. Every day I am faced with new challenges that I never imagined in my work back home. Recently the father of a student came to a speech therapy session happily and assuredly telling us that the therapy may not work, but he recently prayed with a local monk who assured him his daughter would naturally begin to hear and speak.
Tell us about the speech therapy program where you volunteer?
The objective of the oral language program is for deaf children to learn how to functionally communicate using oral language and specialized supports. For this project two speech therapists, an audiologist and I, organize daily speech sessions. The program gives the participants a hearing aid and they receive sound stimulation. The therapy sessions teach the young students to discern and recognize sounds. Simple sounds like a door opening or screams of caution are just the beginning for many students. Children from age 2 to 5 year are among the most successful if they have demonstrated some auditory recognition. The program also includes a capacity building part for the relatives, teachers and workers to create a more inclusive school. The objective is for them all to know how to communicate with the students, focusing on speech but also occasionally sign langauge.
What difficulties and challenges do the children who attend this therapy face?
Their ability to communicate is their biggest difficulty, but also the lack of affection. Students with disabilities often are neglected in their families and grow up with a limited nurturing environment. Our therapy program is centered on love and affection. We share, play, and hug throughout the day. The joy produced from a loving therapy approach has proven to be the most effective way to achieve results. TMy heart goes out to the mothers who live at the school with their hearing impaired child. They leave behind their husbands, other children, and villages to fight against the stigma that they are at fault for their children being born deaf. I am so impressed by their willingness to be a part of speech therapy 24 hours a day.
In what ways can speech therapy be improved in rural areas?
One thing that we need to work on is the link between the therapist and the child. We must enhance the games, the smiles and the affection as the engine of change. Speech therapists, teachers, workers, mothers and fathers have learned not to receive affection and then repeat those established patterns in a very hierarchical way. My personal challenge is that the therapy includes affection, and making sure the speech therapists are sensitive to the behaviours of the child: play with them, give affection and hugs. The program began with 12 girls, on the subject of the situation of women in India, and currently there are 31 children involved in the program. We must continue to sensitize and educate people to be aware that a hearing impairment does not imply not being able to emit sounds.