By Erin Thompson
Mongolia. A beautiful country nestled between China and Russia. Filled with open grasslands, beautiful snow covered mountains, amazing people and just like here in the US children with hearing loss. Children whose families want an opportunity for their children to develop spoken language.
Hello all, I am Erin Thompson and I am one of the Speech-Language Pathologists, Listening and Spoken Language Specialists with The Children’s Cochlear Implant Center at UNC. I was presented with an amazing opportunity to travel to Mongolia in April to work with local professionals and support families of children with hearing loss, developing spoken language through listening. I was invited by The Global Foundation for Children with Hearing Loss (www.childrenwithhearingloss.org) to join a team of professionals to spend two weeks in Ulaanbaatar, the country’s capital. This team was established to support educators and medical professionals. Mongolia has recently committed to implementing a national hearing screening program and to advance their audiological and therapeutic programs. The team for the trip was established by the foundation’s Director, Paige Stringer; and consisted of two Audiologists, another Speech-Language Pathologist as well as a Teacher of the Deaf. The team was assembled from all across the United States and Canada. The program in April was building on what The Global Foundation started during their first hands-on training program in Mongolia, in September 2017.
My first week was spent at Mother and Child Hospital where I and some of my colleagues shared lectures on Partnering with Families, Team Collaboration, Auditory Development, The Global Foundation Curriculum (a collection of charts covering audition, speech, language, and cognitive skill development), along with Assessment/Diagnostics, Goal Writing and Lesson Planning. This time was diagnostic in nature, and focus was spent on topics based on what the Mongolian professionals needed most. There were HOURS of collaboration, brainstorming, hands-on learning, application… and laughter. So much laughter.
Another large part of my time was spent coaching the Mongolian professionals as they took the information from the lectures and applied it through the process of planning for and conducting parent participation sessions. Families came in from Ulaanbaatar and from various areas of the country side (some many, many hours away) to participate. These sessions were collaborative where the Mongolian professionals had the opportunity to plan full therapy sessions and conduct them with a teammate and myself as their coach. They then took what they experienced from those sessions, built upon their strengths and applied that to the next day’s session.
Meeting local professionals and working together with local families is what makes an experience like this stick with you. My first therapy session was on a cool Wednesday morning where a father brought in his shy 2 year old little girl. His little girl had been listening with her cochlear implant for just three short months. This father was very curious about therapy sessions (which the little girl had been attending at times with her mother and with a therapist from Mother and Child Hospital) and very curious on whether his daughter was benefiting from the cochlear implant. We talked a lot about being a newborn listener, the importance of wear time and talking, reading and singing. During that conversation, his cell phone began to ring. The shy little girl stopped playing with her blocks and perked up and started feeling around her father’s pockets because she not only heard the ring but knew it was his cell phone. We all celebrated after we talked about what a milestone this was! She not only detected the sound, but was able to identify what sound she was hearing. This father’s body language perked up, he became excited and encouraged about the possibilities for his little girl. During this time his daughter, tucked in his lap and half under his arm, was busy babbling on the phone to her mother. The discussions that morning with this father, and with the professionals eager to help more families like this, started off our therapy program with such encouragement, motivation and shared joy. That was just the very first session.
It was made well known for many local families that the Global Foundation for Children With Hearing Loss team was going to be back in Mongolia. With the help of local hospitals, we hosted a Parent Night at EMJJ where we provided Audiological and Therapeutic Strategies to help support families, followed by a time for question and answer. It was a two hour event, but could have gone all night based on the heartwarming commitment by families to gather information to support their children …and their many, many questions!
Another part of my time in Ulaanbaatar, was participating in a two day seminar, through the Ministry of Education. This event hosted approximately 80 professionals that included teachers, audiologists and pediatricians. The time was divided between a lecture format and breakout sessions in order to allow group discussion, collaboration and networking all to benefit children with hearing loss in Mongolia.
The Global Foundation team did also take a little down time in between our two weeks of work. We were able to explore a bit of the countryside through a tour group where we visited local monuments of Chenggis Khaan, made homemade dumplings with a local family in their Ger followed by horseback riding while it snowed. We spent the night in a Ger Camp and woke up to snow covered mountains before hiking in the Gun Gallut Nature Preserve. All utterly unique, special and breathtaking.
It was a truly incredible professional and personal experience that I will never forget. Thank you to The Global Foundation for Children with Hearing Loss for the opportunity; my Global Foundation teammates for the support, friendship and laughs; my UNC teammates for supporting me being gone for two weeks and my families at work understanding why I was leaving the country. To the beautiful country and friends I made in Mongolia…. I thank you for taking me in and I surely hope to be back!