CSD in Belize: After Studying Abroad Over Winter Break, Group Plans on Return Trip

13 Communication Sciences and Disorders faculty, staff and students travel to Belize to help country’s children

By Ryan Clark
CHS Communications Director

For many in the College of Health Sciences, breaks in the academic calendar — be they Spring, Winter, Fall or other holidays — seem to be utilized to help others, whenever possible.

Another example of this was found just before last semester, when 13 faculty, staff and students from the Communication Science and Disorders department traveled to Belize for just over a week to help the country’s children.

It all began before the COVID pandemic, when UK’s Study Abroad Office made a concerted effort to reach out to programs to make sure they had opportunities to study abroad.

“I started looking online at different programs that were available for students studying to be speech-language pathologists,” said Aimee Sayre, M.A., CCC-SLP and Academic Clinic Director for the department of Communication Science and Disorders. “I found a company called Therapy Abroad, that offered a number of opportunities throughout the world to gain real-world experience in the field of speech-language pathology.”

It led them to Belize, a country on the northeastern coast of Central America. Sayre and others started planning the trip in 2020, but once the world changed, everything was delayed due to the pandemic. But it did give the students time to fund raise and apply for scholarships to help fund the trip, which is paid for by course fees. Finally, at the beginning of 2023, they were able to go.

Sayre said the educational opportunity for students was two-fold.

“Having the opportunity to gain hands-on experience and practice clinical skills while learning about different cultures was invaluable,” she said. “We were able to attain a greater understanding of speech language pathology services in developing countries and different social issues.”

And they were definitely in need, as Belize has just one speech therapist in the entire country.

“There are really limited resources there,” Sayre said. “Anything we could do to help was very much appreciated.”

For three days, the students held a camp to help special needs children — who were aged 2-11 — with speech therapy. And they were also able to help educate parents on how to continue the therapy.

“It was really eye-opening,” said Mary Beth Allen, MS, CCC-SLP, and Telehealth Support Services Director in Communication Sciences and Disorders. “You learn to just do the best you can with what you have in a limited amount of time. But it’s true you can make an impact.”

She said they could all feel the parents’ gratitude. One child had not had a bath in weeks because it was so challenging. After getting some strategies from the students, the parents later reported that the boy took a bath — and it was the easiest time they’d had in a long while.

“They knew we were trying our best to help their children,” Allen said. “They seemed to really trust what we had in place.”

Lynsey McAllister is a third-year student pursuing an undergraduate degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders and plans to graduate in December 2023. She said she realized how lucky she is to be in a place where speech and language services are readily available.

“I know our presence meant so much to the families we worked with while abroad,” she said. “This trip served as a confirmation that I am right where I am supposed to be, and I couldn’t be more excited for my future as a licensed speech-language pathologist. I am so proud of myself for getting out of my comfort zone and truly immersing myself in the experience.”

Sayre said she is now planning future trips, — for instance, they will return to Belize for Spring Break 2024. But other trips could feature different locales and opportunities.

“This trip could not have gone better for the first time — in the future, it may look a bit different, but the plan is to continue a yearly study abroad opportunity,” she said. “Therapy Abroad allows you to customize each program from a menu of learning and service opportunities. But we know that no matter what, these experiences will have a lasting impact on both our UK students and the people of Belize.”

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