Below is a copy of an assignment I did for our training course at the International Missions Centre, reflecting on my time in Uganda. Apologies for it reading like an essay (it is!)
This is a reflection on the time I spent in Kampala, Uganda during January 2012. I went to Uganda to attend the 4th East African Communication Disability Conference, at Mulago Hospital. This was a conference for those working with people who have communication difficulties, predominately Speech and Language Therapists but also others in the field such as Occupational Therapists, Psychologists, medics etc. This reflection is both of the conference but also of time spent with other BMS workers and spending time in Africa.
I have felt God’s hand over this time in Uganda since the start of my thoughts about the conference. The dates fell in with time set aside for placement and the idea that it might be a goer started to form. The main concern was the cost, although the course fees were low, the flights and visa’s may have been prohibitive even with BMS helping out with £200. It took Joe and I a little while to decide to go for it, but I felt strongly that God was telling me to trust Him for the finances, so when we finally made our decision I felt very peaceful about the money. About 2 hours after we made the decision, I received an email from a couple in our home church. They said that they would like to send a gift to Joe and I. It turned out that this was a gift for £500, and that they had both felt God give them that figure individually about 2 weeks earlier. I felt that both the amount and the timing were confirmations that it was the right thing to go on this course.
The VSO team who teach a Speech and Language Therapy Course at Makere University hosted the conference. This was the team that had offered me a post last April when we were still in application process with BMS, and BMS were unsure whether or not they would be able to use us. It had been a leap of faith to turn down the opportunity and I was filled with mixed emotions about going and meeting the people. Partly I was wondering if they would have annoyed that I had turned down the position, and partly I was wondering if would make me think I had made a mistake. Neither of these was true. The team were incredibley open and friendly, and also very encouraging of the work that I might be doing in Zimbabwe. It did reminded me of how much I love speech and language therapy and how valuable it is, but also that going with BMS was the right decision, speech therapy or not.
The course covered many topics including
- · Communication disabilities in children with neuro-developmental disorders in Uganda
- · Tackling communication disability in East Africa: Strengthening partnerships to promote services
- · Impact of communication disability on families in Kenya
- · Stuttering and traditional healing across Africa: practices and interpretations
There was a vast array of topics all relating to how Speech and Language Therapy works in an African setting, the challenges, the joys, and the practicalities. Not only were the topics covered fantastic but also the connections I made felt like God has His hand all over them. On my first day at the conference I met a British therapist who married a Ugandan. It turned out that Joe knew this man as he had interviewed him for his research on NGOs back in 2005. She had also been a Speech and Language Therapist in Bulawayo for 4 years and was able to give me the details of resources for working with Ndebele speakers that I would never have been able to find by using conventional means. I just needed to speak to the right person and God put that person in my path. Other therapists have said that I have copies of resources they have made specifically for use in an African context and that I can use them for free. Everyday I felt like God got me sat next to the right person. I now know therapists in 6 different African countries and have the contacts of many more. We are able to share ideas, research, what works or doesn’t and start writing the manual for speech and language therapy again in many ways, as our Western models just don’t fit.
Spending time in Africa with BMS workers
Another important and significant part of this trip was the time spent with BMS team. Time to observe, reflect and discuss their experiences of the realities of day-to-day life as mission workers in Africa. I realise that Uganda is very different from Zimbabwe but it’s much closer to what life will be like for us than life at IMC. The team was very welcoming and made me feel at home straight away. I got to see the types of homes that people were living in and the realities of day to day life with electricity cuts etc. and actually how easily and well every one has adapted. It was brilliant to spend time with the ex-pat time but even better than that was to see Annet. To spend time talking, walking round markets, driving round Kampala with her was fantastic. This was my third trip to Africa and second to Uganda and I had the same experience of feeling strangely ‘at home’ that I did on my previous trips, in fact this time felt more comfortable that I ever had before and confident walking around etc. I felt ‘I can do this, isn’t going to be OK’.
It was a time of inspiration as well as information. It reminded me how important Speech and Language Therapy is a developing world setting. I think because communication therapy seems so low down the list of needs for survival, when people are in such need for the basics of life such as food, shelter etc. I had forgotten to value what initially drew me to SLT. The fact that if we can’t communicate with the world around us then a huge part of our humanity is taken away; I may be hungry, thirsty, cold, hurt but if I am unable to communicate that with anyone then I am alone in my hunger and hurt. To be able to convey the love of Jesus we need to be able to communicate. Being able to communicate should not be something that is for the rich, the privileged, but is in fact a basic human right. Being able to be understood and to be able to understand others is essential if people are to understand the love of Jesus and to live in all it’s fullness. Just think of all the times you have communicated with somebody today, you will have communicated thousands of times, not just the the words you have spoken and written but also your body language, a raise of the eyebrows, a look. Imagine if you couldn’t do those things, or when you did nobody understood what you meant. You would be imprisoned but speech and language therapy, or more accurately communication therapy can unlock a world. That is good news.
In Conclusion, this trip has been such an encouragement to me. God has encouraged me about His incredible provision, about living and working in Africa, about BMS, about Speech and Language Therapy and most of all that He has me in His hands.