Chanju’s a volunteer speech pathologist, providing vital support to patients, both before and after surgery. After initially being invited to attend an Operation Smile surgical programme to find out more about our work, Chanju saw firsthand the positive impact of comprehensive cleft care on the children she met. This experience inspired her to lend her time and expertise to help more children. 

Around half of children with a cleft palate will need help with their speech and it’s no surprise that the ability to communicate with friends is vital for a child’s development. Without support, children with cleft palate will often withdraw from situations and avoid interacting with friends for fear of being teased. We caught up with Chanju recently to find out more. 

Q: Can you tell us a bit more about your role during an Operation Smile programme?

A: “We give speech therapy sessions to the kids, especially those with cleft palate who have the most difficulties. For them it feels like the voice is coming from the lungs. Children with cleft struggle to make the K, D and Z sounds because they come from the roof of the mouth, so we work with them on exercises. We also teach the mother how to do the exercises so that when they are at home, they do as we do.”

Q: What are the greatest challenges for patients who need speech therapy? 

A: “The greatest challenge is that patients are in different districts. In some districts they don’t have a speech therapist, so those kids can’t attend speech sessions after surgery. 

“Also, some of the family members, even the teachers, their friends, can’t understand what the child is saying…every time when the child wants to speak maybe to a friend, they’re afraid they will say, ‘ah you can’t speak properly!’ so that child always feels, when they’re playing, they should just stay quiet. Then they don’t have that time of playing, just because they feel, ‘If I say something, they’ll laugh at me.” 

Q: How do you feel when a child graduates from the speech therapy programme?  

A: “Full of joy. You see there’s achievement, someone is graduating… When the child is speaking properly like everyone, like how we speak, that’s the best moment ever!” 

Q: Is there a particular patient story that really stands out for you?   

A: “Yes, Journey, because since I started volunteering, she has been my patient. Now she’s almost discharged. She’s seven and when she started speech therapy, she was six. Therapy is moving… so it’s always the happiest moment to see the improvement. At first, she wasn’t going to school, she was always saying, ‘No, I don’t want to go to school because my friends always laugh at me!’  Now she goes to school and the family is happy.” 

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