The Birth of the Professions in Guyana An SLP volunteers to help launch a communication sciences and disorders training program at the University of Guyana. World Beat
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World Beat  |   March 01, 2017
The Birth of the Professions in Guyana
Author Notes
  • Erin Mercer, MA, CCC-SLP, is a Returned Peace Corps Response Volunteer. She practices privately in Colorado and provides training workshops with the Nathan Ebanks Foundation in Jamaica. erinmjang@gmail.com
    Erin Mercer, MA, CCC-SLP, is a Returned Peace Corps Response Volunteer. She practices privately in Colorado and provides training workshops with the Nathan Ebanks Foundation in Jamaica. erinmjang@gmail.com×
Article Information
Professional Issues & Training / International & Global / World Beat
World Beat   |   March 01, 2017
The Birth of the Professions in Guyana
The ASHA Leader, March 2017, Vol. 22, 40-42. doi:10.1044/leader.WB.22032017.40
The ASHA Leader, March 2017, Vol. 22, 40-42. doi:10.1044/leader.WB.22032017.40
“One, one dutty build dam!” This came from a Guyanese friend referring to her daunting task of moving and packing. And it means, “Little by little, we will accomplish something big!” The phrase perfectly expresses how I feel about my involvement in building a training program in Guyana.
My work is part of ASHA’s efforts to develop speech-language and audiology preparation in developing nations—with the goal of producing trained providers of appropriate speech-language and hearing services.
Guyana, with a population of 770,000, has no resident audiologist or speech-language pathologist. At the request of Guyana’s Ministry of Health and the Pan American Health Organization, an ASHA committee developed a curriculum for speech-language and audiology bachelor’s degree programs at the University of Guyana. Five students will graduate by 2018.
I supported this project in the country for just over a year as a Peace Corps response volunteer. I helped build a sustainable, beginning-level communication sciences and disorders (CSD) program. I took on this responsibility—primarily supporting curriculum development—because I was ready for a career change. Plus, the work sounded intriguing and rewarding.
When I arrived in Guyana in September 2015, I soon discovered my actual responsibilities varied significantly from the proposed job description. I expected this might happen and eagerly faced this challenge.

My work is part of ASHA’s efforts to develop international speech-language and audiology preparation in developing nations.

Program challenges
One major challenge was a woeful lack of resources. Almost no sources supported the budding program or students. A month after my arrival, I started a donation drive through contacts in the U.S. to assemble a resource library for the students. I received more than 200 pounds of donated treatment materials, assessment tools and textbooks. Donations arrived from various programs, including Super Duper Inc., Academic Therapy Publications and Jackson County School District in Georgia. I continue to solicit and organize contributions of materials and other resources as the program develops and we better understand future needs.
The program also needed support devising effective recruitment strategies. There was little education on the importance and significance of training CSD professionals in the country. In addition, Guyana struggles with a high secondary school drop-out rate among girls due to teenage pregnancy, which decreases young women’s chances for a university education. This further affects the potential pool of students for the program. Plans to raise awareness about the program include campaigns in secondary schools and the wider community.
Communication differences and misunderstandings can occur among even the most collaborative of partners in creating and developing a new program. Even without a language barrier, participants often need guidance on how best to communicate about goals and how to achieve them. I represented the Peace Corps, ASHA and the university, so I was able to coordinate their shared mission for the new program to help enhance the collaborative communication process.
Cultural challenges
Although Guyana’s national language is English, many locals speak Guyanese Creole as their first language. Guyanese Creole can be challenging to understand from a foreigner’s perspective. A single word or phrase often conveys various meanings based on context. For example, someone will use the term “oh, shucks” when they get vexed or excited, experience mixed feelings, or even just forget something.
Also, a common phrase in reference to time management is “jus’ now,” which really means sometime soon. Being the person there to help communication and ensure the program will continue after my assignment ends, I needed to understand and translate these language subtleties.
The University of Guyana needs time to establish a permanent faculty for this new program. With the right approach to spreading the word, they should be able to hire professors from other countries. My ultimate responsibility as a Peace Corps response volunteer includes ensuring this project—like all Peace Corps projects—can continue and thrive once my assignment ends.
With no qualified instructors in-country to keep the program going and no way to train a nonspeech professional to teach the courses or supervise students, sustaining the CSD program remains a big challenge. ASHA will work to provide support by helping recruit volunteer lecturers and supervisors until the university can recruit and train a long-term faculty.

With no qualified instructors in-country to keep the program going and no way to train a non-speech professional to teach the courses or supervise students, sustaining the CSD program remains a big challenge.

I encouraged the university to improve the program’s sustainability by suggesting they:
  • Advertise paid instructor positions.

  • Establish exchange programs with other universities.

  • Promote the professions and the program in secondary schools.

  • Help the university set up an annual scholarship fund to entice promising students.

During this exciting, demanding, completely worthwhile experience, I picked up other insights for working and living in another country: Ask a lot of open-ended questions to ensure understanding. Bring learning and teaching resources! Even in friendly countries, always stay alert and cautious. Foreigners draw attention. Use creative techniques and strategies to get your ideas acknowledged. Make friends with locals and expats. Establish allies. Especially, rely on your sense of humor!
1 Comment
March 6, 2017
Sharon Clarke
Speech Therapy Exchange in Summer 1999
Like Ms. Mercer, I too was proud to have been given the opportunity to share some of my knowledge and skills as a Speech-Language Pathologist from the Bahamas, on a similar but shorter exchange with the people of Guyana June-August 1999. I was recruited too by PAHO in collaboration with the Ministry of Health - Community-Based Rehab Services (CBR), Guyana to continue a program which was initiated by persons from England and Australia, I believe. I worked with closely with the ENT Specialist at the George Town Public Hospital who identified many of the patients referred for services. The objective was to provide training for about 15-20 persons from the community (high school graduates and matured students) so as to ensure some limited access to SLP, OT & PT services in a country where like you stated earlier, there were no services. During my time there, I was able to provide basic training in speech therapy so that at the end, the students were able to create a basic screening tool - fashioned very closely to the COMPTON Screening Instrument and an articulation using local, indigenous materials. Basic informal, language, fluency & voice screening techniques were also shared. The majority of the students completed the training and most were placed in the hospital and community to provide much needed assistance, given that at that time hearing loss and deafness were quite prevalent. One reason given (anecdotally) was the high rate of German Measles contracted by mothers prior to my stint there. Yes, there are cultural and linguistic differences which one has to be aware of, which would then make your stay that much easier. as an example, one which I remember to this day, the students often asked me for a "push start" - during quizzes or when questioning them - which meant give them some more information, clues to help them figure out the correct answer. I deemed it a privilege to have been given such an opportunity to impart critical information to persons who were like 'sponges'- eagerly sucking up every bit of what you had to share and then going out and sharing with those in need. Several years after my departure, some of the students continued to keep me abreast of how they were doing at their various jobs, and they certainly were using the skills I so humbly shared with them. it's experiences like these that make one's job so fulfilling and it is one that I shall never forget! Thanks to international organizations like PAHO and my Ministry of Education who afforded me such a valuable opportunity.
It is so nice that you have restarted a very important campaign in collaboration with ASHA to assist persons in the lesser developing countries improve their access to critical services like ours. Hats of to you and ASHA- May your Reach be Wide and Productive!
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March 2017
Volume 22, Issue 3