Tara Sullivan – Speech Therapist in Fiji
My two friends and I had just graduated with our BSc Speech and Language Therapy degrees, and with the job climate how it is, we wanted to boost our CVs and give to a community less fortunate than our own. We attended a talk at a local university and from thereon decided we would go with Projects Abroad. Right from the get-go our volunteer advisor, Justine was there to answer any questions we had. We didn’t know much about what our project would entail, but while we were out there, we contributed to the volunteer induction pack so the next volunteers would be able to prepare better.
Arriving in Fiji
We were greeted by a Projects Abroad representative as soon as we arrived at the airport. He gave us the opportunity to get a Fijian SIM card for our phones which we declined, thinking that we wouldn’t need one as we were only in the country for two weeks. However, four days into our trip we got the SIM cards. They were super cheap and allowed us to keep in contact with our project leaders and the other volunteers. We were also kept informed so we could participate in the weekly workshops and community days run by Projects Abroad. We were taken to our host family and shown to our rooms. There were three of us, so the two other volunteers shared a twin room and I was in the other room. We said our hellos then quickly went to bed. We were exhausted after hours of travelling and we wanted to be ready for our induction in the morning.
We were placed in a special school in Lautoka which had 91 students aged approximately 5-23. In Fiji, people speak English, Fijian and/or Hindi, but at the school we had no problem communicating with the children in English, despite their difficulties. We could therefore rule out language delay as a result of lack of command of English.
We asked for a list of all the pupils, along with their formal diagnoses. Their impairments ranged from solely sensory, i.e. hearing or sight, to low-functioning autism, or speech delay/disorder. We quickly discovered that information on the children’s difficulties were out of date and at times inaccurate. Despite this, we gathered more accurate information from the teachers and asked them which children they felt were a priority for us to see. We assessed the children using informal materials such as picture object cards, cuddly toys and simple storybooks. Following assessment, we were able to make recommendations to the children’s teachers on how to support their language development.
After a couple of days in the school we realised that a whole-school approach would be the most effective course of action, as many of the children had the same difficulties: poor attention. We therefore implemented a behavioural system using ‘Yellow, Amber, Red’ cards, where each time a child left the classroom without asking, interrupted a teacher, or didn’t follow an instruction they would receive a card. Once they had progressed to a red card, they would be taken to see the head teacher. We also trained the teachers to use consistent, positive behavioural management techniques such as ‘good sitting’, ‘good looking’ and ‘good listening’, using a verbal cue, a physical cue of arms crossed and finger on lips and a visual cue of a child sitting nicely.
The teachers reported that after a few days of using these techniques consistently the children were better behaved, which for us, was so rewarding. As well as direct speech therapy work, we also helped out in the classroom with Math, English, cooking and painting. At the end of our two weeks we were sad to leave however the children had bundles of energy and we were exhausted. We left a folder on the computer so that the next Speech Therapy volunteers can see what we did and hopefully continue our work.
Our free time
We spent two free weekends in Fiji, the first one we went down to Port Denarau to scout out a good deal on a boat trip to one of the many beautiful Fijian islands. By showing our volunteer passes we managed to get a local rate on a day trip to Beachcomber Island, we even played volleyball, sunbathed, snorkeled and saw some turtles! On our other days off we went to Nadi for some retail therapy, went to a resort with the other volunteers to use the pool, and on our last day off in Fiji we made the expedition to Natadola beach. It was a bit of a hike on public transport but it was so cheap and the beach was stunning, it was worth every minute of travel. Other volunteers went to Cloud Nine, a floating bar. We definitely would have visited other islands had we had the time!