Learning and Serving in Zambia

SLHS students screening children for hearing problems

Senior Jordan Potosky and Mel Chua, PhD student in engineering screen a child at Kizito Primary School. (Photo provided by Lata Krishnan)

The 12 students who traveled to Zambia in May 2013 for the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences’ first-ever study abroad program got more than they bargained for. They had signed up for a two-week service-learning program — an opportunity to provide hearing and speech services to children in need while experiencing a culture different from their own. What they came home with was an altered worldview and the humble feeling that they learned much more than they served.

“I’m amazed at the amount of life lessons, experiences and information I gained from each individual I met,” says Anyea Livers, a May 2013 graduate. “Through this program, I learned skills and lessons that simply cannot be taught in a traditional classroom.”

During their two-week stay, the students tested or screened almost 500 individuals, mostly children, at hospitals, schools and community centers. Undergraduates gained clinical experience in otoscopy, pure tone and otoacoustic emission screening procedures — something they wouldn’t normally get to do until they are in graduate school. Under the supervision of SLHS professors Lata Krishnan and Jennifer Simpson, students as young as sophomores were conducting hearing screenings.

“This sort of experience is amazing and not practiced at the undergraduate level in the states,” says sophomore Megan O’Connell, who was thrilled to be invited by a physician at Beit CURE Hospital in Lusaka to sit in on patient consultations. “I learned more on this trip than I ever thought I would.”

The Institute of ENT and Audiology at Beit CURE Hospital was the primary community partner organization for the service-learning program and served as home base for the Purdue group. The institute provides high-quality, affordable ear, nose and throat care to those in need.

At Beit CURE, students had the opportunity to meet and work with Zambia’s only audiologist, Alfred Mwamba, a 2004 Purdue graduate. Mwamba earned a master’s in audiology and then returned to his home country to practice. Zambia is home to about 14 million people and nearly half are under 15 years old. Hearing screenings for school-age children are not common practice, and as a result, conditions that can lead to hearing impairment may go undiagnosed and untreated.

“Our goal was not to ‘swoop in’ to Zambia and provide our specialized services, but rather to carefully listen to Zambian providers about the needs in their country and see how we could fit our program to their goals,” says Krishnan, a clinical professor who visited Zambia in 2012 to plan the trip. “As guests in their country, we felt strongly that we needed to respect their decisions and acknowledge that Zambians know best what their country needs.”


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