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Clare Armstrong- Rogers has just returned from being a World Mission Council Professional Volunteer in Sri Lanka. Here are her reflections on her placement at the Women’s Development Centre in Kandy.

When I applied for the volunteer post of speech and language therapist in a community project in Sri Lanka I was looking for a new adventure to change my life and mend a broken heart.  It certainly did that!  I found an island paradise full of friendly people and I fell in love…with Sri Lanka.

I spent my first week observing how things were done in Community Based Rehab (CBR), the special school attached to the Women’s Development Centre.  I was struck by how similar things were to the schools I had worked at in England.  The classes were arranged and run a similar way and a lot of the children reminded me of children I had worked with back home.  I was particularly impressed by the structure in one class and was glad to see some sign language being used.  The teachers clearly had a good rapport with one another and the children.  The school was a happy place to be.

 It had been some years since a qualified speech and language therapist had worked in CBR so the aim of my placement was to update the teachers’ skills and knowledge, enabling them to sustain the work with the children after I left.  I thought about the best way I could do this.  Not speaking Sinhala or Tamil I was unable to analyse language difficulties so I concentrated on providing visual structure and prompts such as timetables and increased signing to help support the children’s understanding.  I also introduced picture exchange as a communication system.  For the teachers I introduced the concept of the Communication Tree to show visually how important it is to work on basic ‘root’ skills such as attention and turn-taking long before working on speech sounds which are the ‘apples on the tree’.

 As well as teaching others I have learnt a lot from this experience.  Being in a foreign country and not understanding the language has given me insight into how the children feel – like them, I need things to be explained in a way I can understand or I feel confused and frustrated.  It has helped me to gain confidence in my skills, in delivering training and in being realistic about how much work I can do.  The laid back Sri Lankan approach is something I am definitely going to try to take back to England!

Note: The Professional Volunteering Programme is run in partnwership with Challenges Worldwide. See more at http://challengesworldwide.org/