Amber Shoffner: Speech Pathology Fellowship

Amber Shoffner: Speech Pathology Fellowship

Hey there, and welcome to my post on the Special Hope blog.  I am a speech pathologist in my clinical fellowship year – a year of supervised practicing required after earning your master’s degree in speech pathology before you can become certified to practice on your own.  I have been in Zambia since August this year, and what a feat it is to put that experience thus far into a single blog post. But I’m going to try my best.  


For those of you who don’t have any knowledge of speech pathology, we primarily work in the areas of communication and swallowing.   Communication includes a whole lot of smaller areas including receptive and expressive language, fluency, voice, articulation, and alternative or augmentative communication (AAC).   I came to Zambia fully expecting to work in all of these areas, but little did I know, my job description included a lot more things that I would have to learn and put into practice.  


First of all, I needed to understand my role properly.  Overall, I would say my role is not necessarily to help the children as much as it is to help our Zambian staff and parents know how best to help the children in their own environment and context. I knew I would be helping teachers, but I can honestly say that I had not fully considered my role in true practical terms of what is needed and what can actually be accomplished in a simple 9-month span. I will 100% do more good for the children if I can help equip Zambians who don’t have to cross a cultural boundary to interact with the kids and parents and who also will most likely remain here for as long as needed.  I am here as a peer to share the knowledge I have with them about speech pathology, not to take over.  Confession – I am generally not very good at sitting back and not wanting to jump in and take over or be involved in something. It has taken a lot of forethought and prayer to remember my role here.

One of the major goals of SHN is sustainability of special education services in Zambia. This is definitely one of my favorite things about this organization, and one of the things I look forward to helping with as much as possible, as humbling as it may be.  Though I am here to equip the teachers, there’s a lot more to it than saying “hey this is what you need to do, so do it because I said so.” It takes a relationship and a trust between myself and each staff member I work alongside for any permanent change to take place. So that’s what I’ve been doing – meeting the staff, talking about their lives and families, and most importantly just hanging out and laughing. They are all wonderful people with hearts of gold that truly care SO MUCH about these children, which is definitely not the cultural norm. For most people in Zambia, children with disabilities are the product of sin or a curse and definitely not meant to amount to anything in society.  Our teachers spend their days working against this cultural norm in how they teach and love our children.

On a more specific note, Special Hope has had quite a few changes going on this past month. We’ve changed our timetable for our programs, which has forced me to become a bit of a morning person. I now have to leave my house to start walking at 6:45 am. At first I thought this would be the death of me, but I have found that I really enjoy seeing Lusaka in the morning commute hours.

I have a bus stop very close to my home where I can sometimes catch a truck into work instead of having to walk the whole 30 minutes. It’s hard to time when to get to the stop so most of the time I get there a few minutes early. One morning I was standing there waiting still trying to wake up, but I just started to look around me and enjoy it. The weather is beautiful right now in the early morning hours… breezy and warm but still not hot enough to sweat like the rest of the day. I stood there and looked around and saw all of my sweet Zambian neighbors heading to work. Whether they were hopping on a minibus (privately owned vans with names like “Never Trust a Woman” or “Jesus is the Way” – lots of variety), riding a bike with two friends propped on behind them, hopping in the back of a somewhat random pickup just because they know it’s going the same way as them, walking in little clumps, or just walking or waiting alone like me – they were all smiling, all chatting, all happy to be able to have work and provide for themselves and their families. The man having to pedal the bicycle didn’t seem the least bit frustrated that there were two other men on his bicycle. He just knew it was his turn and did it joyfully. The pickup truck drivers weren’t annoyed that there were random people in the back of their truck. They just knew that these people needed a ride and were going in the same direction so why wouldn’t they help?   It just was one of those moments where I just loved where I was – the time, the place, the people, the whole thing.


As a speech-pathologist, I feel like I had been somewhat exposed to functional skills but not exactly. I am trained in a specific area of special education. Here at Special Hope it’s all hands on deck so I have learned SO MUCH about special education in all its parts. One example of my lack of knowledge was during a planning session with my team of teachers.   We have updated all of the children’s Individual Educational Plans (for my SLP friends, that means I had to learn to do ALL the areas of the IEPs, including the pre-academic, math, literacy, adaptive skills, etc.).   One of my teachers had one of these IEPs, which had a literacy goal for learning to identify letters… well, I had no clue there were so many rules about how a child developmentally learns their letters. Did you know that you learn lowercase first or that you learn the letters in order of how often they’re used versus in alphabetical order? I was clueless. It was one of those moments where I had to look at the teacher and simply say “wow, I am not sure. Let me go ask someone” and admit that I have no clue about so much. When making the goals for the IEPs and now working along with these functional skills, I have had to do some research on my own to catch up with my special education co-workers. I am excited about all the things I’ve learned though and love that this experience is teaching me so much for my future as a speech therapist.

Outside of work, life in Lusaka is going smoothly. I’ve learned to kill bugs. I’ve learned how to tell my taxi driver where the heck to go (not really). I’ve danced in the first rain of the season (though it’s definitely still dry season). I’ve learned to make homemade poptarts. I’ve learned to sleep in a billion degrees (not really). I’ve learned putting your wrist under cold water cools you down. I’ve learned to speak enough Nyanja to make a Zambian laugh. I’ve learned to bum lots of lifts to the grocery store. I’ve learned to download shows on Netflix on free wifi. I’ve learned how to get out of eating nsima 3x a week. I’ve learned how to make a health insurance claim full of IVs less than $1. I’ve learned to attend at least 2 braiis (bbqs) a week. I’ve learned to stay hydrated (still working on it). I’ve learned to put my fan actually inside my mosquito net at night. I’ve learned how to kill mosquitoes with an electric tennis racket like a gladiator. I’ve learned Peace Corp people have amazing movie hard drives and to make friends with them quickly. I’ve learned how to get too many temporary stamps while waiting for a business permit. I’ve learned to just be okay with things happening in a different time frame and to enjoy every moment along the way (still working on it but hey – improvement).

Though you may be sitting at home an ocean away from where I am, I hope that this post has given you a small glimpse into what is happening here.  I hope, for those of you who support us in prayer or by giving, that you see the fruits of your labors and the seeds of hope and love being planted into each of these kiddos here at Special Hope. Your gifts and prayers allow us to do so very much for these children, families, and staff.  Without your help, we couldn’t be here.  So I want to say  – thank you.  Thank you so much for your support.  I cannot express my gratitude.  I can only show you the results of your giving.