An agreement signed on Thursday paves the way for the first university course in speech therapy in Cambodia, which has an estimated 600,000 people with communication and swallowing disorders, and brings the country a step closer to its first native professional in the field.
The 12-week course at Phnom Penh’s Pannasastra University will begin in August, and includes 16 hours of classwork per weekend, according to Cheryl Glorch, director of Teachers in Cambodia, which signed the agreement with the university and its co-developer in the course, Speech Therapy Cambodia.
“The course is meant to be an introductory pilot program and is intended to spark interest in the development of the profession of speech pathology at a university-degree level,” Ms. Glorch said. Teachers and those working with the disabled are the target students.
“There’s such a need for it, and it’s being done,” she said of speech therapy practices offered by NGOs in Cambodia. “But it’s being done in a piecemeal fashion, and we’re trying to collect everybody that’s working on
this to get together and hopefully be able to offer a valuable course.”
Issues resulting from speech or swallowing disorders can range from an inability to communicate to an increased susceptibility to fluids or bacteria in one’s lungs, which can be “quite severe or life threatening,” according to Elizabeth Chafcouloff, a board member of the speech NGO.
“There are some good private clinics in Phnom Penh, but these are accessible only to the relatively well-off,” she said, adding that they are all run by foreign professionals. The new course, she said, “is Cambodia-specific because what we’re doing is working directly with the community.”
“For example, if the student comes from the National Pediatric Hospital, we’ll work with them so they can tell us what the problems they face are, what they need and we can discuss what we would do,” she said.
Up to 15 students will be able to register for the course free of charge, as overhead costs are being covered by the University of London in the U.K., Ms. Glorch said.
A speech therapist from the U.S. will teach the bulk of the course’s theory, practicum and clinical observation, and guest instructors will pitch in periodically, she added. Children’s speech and language disorders; physical, learning and acquired neurological disorders; and eating and drinking difficulties will be among the topics covered.
Soeun Savath, a 39-year-old project coordinator for disability NGO Komar Pikar Foundation, said he welcomed new training opportunities in the country, but hoped to see speech therapy evolve into a bachelor’s degree program of its own.
“I like speech therapy content because I often meet kids who have mental disabilities, so there is not medicine to treat that,” he said. “Speech therapy offers a communication these kids can speak.”
(Additional reporting by Sek Odom)