Speak Up, Smiley!

Smile Train

On the third day of her daughter’s speech therapy, a miracle unfolded in front of Vimbainashe Musarurwa’s eyes. Her daughter Tariro, whom she affectionately calls “Smiley”, was speaking.

At home, Tariro primarily used sign language to communicate with her family. She is among the many people who face challenges speaking after their cleft palate is treated. That’s why Tariro’s mother brought her to a Smile Train-supported Cleft Palate Speech and Feeding Workshop in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Tariro gets a certificate

Though the workshop is often just the first step for those in need of speech therapy, Vimbainashe was thrilled with Tariro’s progress in just a few days.

“This was the very first time we had ever attended a speech therapy session and I was amazed at how quickly Smiley was able to say new words! She would use sign language at home with her siblings, which is a challenge. I was also afraid that if she went to school, her self-esteem would be affected if other children mocked her speaking. I have also learned so much to help her speak better and I’m eager to put her through regular school at the second term of next year,” said Vimbainashe.

Dr. Crowley hugs Tariro

The training was hosted by the Smile Train Africa team and Dr. Catherine Crowley, one of Smile Train’s newest Medical Advisory Board members and founder of the LEADERSproject. Dr. Crowley’s expertise lies in international cleft lip and palate speech therapy, and she has developed these sessions to build speech services for cleft patients in low-resources settings.

This workshop, a 5-day program for speech language pathologists, therapists, nurses, and parents of children with clefts from across Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi, focused upon equipping these professionals and parents with essential information and strategies to improve children’s speech.

Across many countries in Africa, there is a critical lack of speech language professionals, and children in need of speech therapy after their surgery often must go without treatment, which can affect their success in school and damage their self-esteem and confidence. Smile Train supports workshops like these, which are conducted in a “Train the Trainer” format, so that trainees can take the skills they have learned and share them with others, vastly expanding the healthcare workforce able to support children with clefts.

Morgan Silungwe, a Speech and Language Technician from Malawi, felt empowered to share what he learned in the training with fellow professionals and advocate for post-surgical cleft care in his country.

Morgan Silungwe and Princess

“Post-surgery care in Malawi is a dream for many patients who are left isolated and teased because of how they sound. Through the knowledge I have gained at the Speech Therapy and Feeding Workshop, I feel empowered to train other professionals so that cleft patients in my country receive correct speech therapy and live better lives,” said Morgan.

Subsequent trainings across Southern Africa will be led by the most advanced trainees who attended this session, supported by more experienced mentors.

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