Australian Volunteers International

March 21, 2023

Returned Australian volunteer Danielle shares her life-changing experience

Danielle Vellucci helped establish a speech therapy clinic in Cambodia’s National Paediatric Hospital, working with local colleagues to help children strengthen their ability to communicate.

“I’m comfortable with my speech therapy skills, however, bringing them to Cambodia in a different context with different systems, culture and language has meant I’ve had to adapt and think about my skills in new ways.

“My main project has been to help set up a speech therapy clinic within Cambodia’s National Paediatric Hospital. It is the first government hospital to offer speech therapy for children as an outpatient service, which is very exciting. The clinic provides direct speech therapy services for children, as well as observation opportunities, coaching and training. Currently, two National Paediatric health professionals are training to be speech therapy assistants.

“Many of the children we see have either a developmental delay, intellectual disability, physical impairment like cerebral palsy, intellectual disability, autism, speech delay and/or difficulties swallowing. The speech therapy assistants conduct the sessions in Khmer, while I provide support through observation, assessment, goal setting, coaching and mentoring.

“Our main aim is to build the skills of the family, as they are the experts on their child. As professionals, we understand communication, language and swallowing development, but it is by working together that we can have the best outcomes for children. We support the family to understand their child’s communication and share strategies they can use every day at home to support and strengthen the child’s ability to communicate.

“The clinic is also collecting much needed data, developing Khmer specific resources and tracking child progress to demonstrate the need for, and importance of, the development of the speech therapy profession in Cambodia.

“Being able to live in Cambodia, while contributing to building the speech therapy profession, has been an incredible opportunity for me. Every day is exciting, interesting and stimulating. I have learned a lot about myself, and these learnings, growth and development have and will continue to positively influence my future.”

Danielle’s volunteer assignment was part of the Australian Volunteers Program, an Australian government initiative managed by an AVI-led consortium.