Gone to Ghana

Students in Ghana
Each year, masters’ students from the Teachers College Columbia University program in speech language pathology travel to Ghana to provide services and share skills and understanding with Ghanaian colleagues. I am the program director, Miriam Baigorri is clinical director, and Dorothy Leone is clinical supervisor of the Ghana program. Students work at the two major teaching hospitals within ENT, cleft palate, and craniofacial departments, and with the unit schools for students with disabilities.

We documented our trip by blogging live from Ghana, and rather than excerpt posts from that blog for ASHAsphere, we invite you to read all about our experiences on the trip blog.

Catherine (Cate) Crowley, J.D., Ph.D., CCC-SLP, is a lecturer in the program of SLP at Teachers College Columbia University where she coordinates the bilingual/multicultural program focus and directs the Bilingual Extension Institute. Cate has led TC students to Bolivia each year for five years and to Ghana for the past three years. She is on the steering committee of ASHA’s SIG 17 Global Issues in Communication Disorders.


  1. Nate Cornish says

    What a great opportunity for your students to share the skills they’ve acquired here and to have learning experiences that are unique to being abroad in Ghana (including attending a cleft palate surgery). I’m sure it’s quite an undertaking, but it definitely sounds like it’s worth it to everyone. Congratulations!

  2. molly singleton says

    My clinical experiences during the inaugural trip to Ghana continue to influence my current practice in that I learned to focus on the reality of my patients’ day to day life. My treatment incorporates tasks and materials that are not specific to the clinic setting, but that are accessible to the patient and necessary to bridge the gap between impaired communication and functional expression whether in a rural African market or an urban American supermarket.

  3. Cindy says

    Congrats! This program looks amazing for both the TC students and the students/individuals who receive your services in Ghana. I went on the Bolivia program with Cate its initial year. The 5 weeks I spent working and living in Bolivia, continue to inform my decisions, compassion and abilities as a working SLP.

  4. Danielle says

    I am one of the graduate students that participated in this transcultural SLP trip to Ghana through Teachers College. I can honestly say that this was by far one of the best experiences of my LIFE! I learned so much about myself and the impact I have as future SLP’s not only in the U.S., but internationally as well. Thank you for allowing me to take part in this experience, Dr. Crowley :)

  5. Jaclyn Simoneau says

    Teachers College extended their speech services around the world, and went above and beyond. This goes to show the unique speech and language program it has to offer. The trip encouraged me to travel and do the same.

  6. Becky says

    I was one of the graduate students who participated in the Ghana Program this past January. This experience provided us students with various opportunities to develop the skills necessary to become proficient and effective speech-language pathologists. We offered speech and language evaluations and treatment to many individuals ranging in age and diagnoses. We collaborated with the medical and educational staff to ensure greater sustainability. We also observed a cleft-palate surgery; an extraordinary opportunity for any graduate clinician. Overall, we gained a better understanding and appreciation for Ghanaian culture, and learned more about being sensitive to culturally appropriate communications between children and their families.These opportunities are priceless and the experiences that we gained will forever impact our careers as speech-language pathologists.

  7. Angela M. Grice says

    I went on the 2008-2009 trip to Ghana (December 30, 2008 – January 16, 2009) as a clinical supervisor. The trip remains one of the most influential experiences in my life, both on a professional and personal level. I continue to use what I learned in Ghana in my work with children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Currently, I work in a magnet school where the population is comprised of children from various countries. My experiences working in Ghana have helped me to act as an educator for many of the faculty in my school. Often I am required to use the culturally sensitive methods, which are similar to the methods I used there. Prior to my trip, I had extensive training in the area of multiculturalism, but the trip allowed for a practical use of that knowledge. It also provided us with scenarios in which to discover the many variables that will impact our service delivery. I was challenged to help my students develop methods that were culturally appropriate for the clients that we serviced. Access to technology and negative perceptions of disability were among the obstacles that forced everyone to be more thoughtful in our therapy approaches. I was most surprised at the lessons that I learned along the way on our trip. Every day I was impressed by the spirituality and outlook of the people in Ghana. They honored and treasured things that we often take for granted. The trip tested me and revealed things about myself that I wanted to change. I returned a different person with a better understanding of how to overcome obstacles and differences.

  8. says

    I am an alum of the Master’s program and wish these abroad programs were available while I was there! What a great opportunity for the students and faculty alike, to see how the SLP field can be broadened internationally, and to see the effects that we, as professionals can have cross-culturally. Great job Cate and team!

    • says

      I had Ghana Braids on and every single time I had em they were paiunfl! i am glad the kid in this video was smiling..Both times i did my hair i was about to cry and no am not a cry baby, but i just think these cornrows are paiunfl and the tip, the very start wont last long,nevertheless they are beautiful!

  9. Jackie Rubinstein says

    I was one of the students fortunate enough to participate in this trip. I was such an honor to be able to work with all of the wonderful educators in Ghana. They have just as much, if not more, to offer our educational system here in the US as we had to offer them. It was also incredible to be given the experience of carrying out thorough evaluations of clients and create sustainable treatment plans for them without any standardized assessments or an abundance of supplies. It really shows how we are able to do our jobs comprehensively without these things. The skills in gained in assessment and treatment through this experience have already impacted my clinical practice and I will continue to shape my skills throughout my career. I can’t wait to see what great things this trip brings next year!!

  10. Elizabeth Ijalba says

    Students love the international program. In fact, many students applying to graduate school in speech-language pathology tell me they want to apply to Columbia because of this opportunity to travel abroad, learn, and to help in whatever measure they can. I traveled three times to Bolivia as a supervisor and each time it was a different and even more enriching experience. Students were guided to provide services to some of the most needy people in the world. Simple things, such as teaching parents about the importance of communication, introducing literacy, teaching them how to play, giving them hope—these are crucial aspects when parents are faced with a child who is not developing language and is increasingly isolated from society.

    I am convinced there are life-changing experiences that help shape us into who we are. The international multicultural program at TC is one of those life-changing experiences in the lives of our students. We are fortunate to be in a profession that allows us to make this world a better place and this is what students learn when they travel and work with this program. I thank Cate for always being such an engine of change and higher aspirations in our profession. Keep up the good work Cate!!!

  11. Alana Bibergal says

    I was part of the first group of graduate students who went to Ghana, and it was so wonderful to read about the next group’s experience in the blog (I can’t believe you actually got to observe a cleft palate surgery!!! So amazing!). My clinical experience in Ghana was my first clinical speech and language pathology experience, and it influenced future clinical experiences I had while in graduate school as well as my current practice working in the field. In Ghana we learned first hand how important it is to consider a child’s cultural background, and life outside of the therapy room when creating a treatment plan for them. It is vital to always create functional, and culturally and linguistically appropriate goals and materials. It is also important to explain to the families that it isn’t their fault that their child has special needs and there ARE things that can be done to help them. Although there isn’t a pill that can cure speech and language disabilities, which one father asked for, there are simple ways to help children that don’t take a lot of time. For example, it may not be possible for all families to sit and read a book with their child every day, but if someone narrates their actions and labels items as they do the dishes or bathe the child this will facilitate language growth. I learned how important it is to keep the family’s abilities in mind, and to offer realistic suggestions. Thank you Cate for giving me the opportunity to go to Ghana and take part in this amazing experience!

  12. says

    What a fantastic opportunity for your students to share their skills with Ghanaian colleagues and provide services in both hospital and school settings! Their experiences within the ENT, Cleft Palate and Craniofacial departments, including being able to view a cleft palate surgery provided the students a unique experience!! Congratulations to everyone!!!

  13. Jacqueline Torres says

    The reason I chose to attend TC for graduate school was to be a part of the international program. Last year I was able to participate in the Bolivia program. It changed my life and will forever impact how I look at my role as an SLP. Hearing stories from this year’s Ghana group, I know they feel the same way.

    I only wish more graduate programs had similar opportunities for their students. It would be fun to collaborate with fellow students and learn about their experiences abroad.

  14. Eliza Thompson says

    I was blessed enough to have been able to be a part of The Ghana Experience in 2010 as a Clinical Supervisor. Being a Ghanaian-American, the experience was fulfilling both personally and professionally.
    There are no words that can describe what it was like for me to return to Ghana as a practicing speech-language pathologist and be able to help my people in such a way as this. In addition to our work in the hospitals and schools, I think the most memorable experience for me was taking the special education students to the market with our hand-made PECS. Everyone was proud to see the students strolling through the market stalls and be able to use the cards to purchase goods such as plantains, peppers and tomatoes. I remember hearing the merchants say to one another in Twi, “Look at these Americans; if they can have the patience to work with our children, certainly so can we. God bless them.”
    I look forward to see how our work in Ghana will go on to impact speech-pathology and how Ghanaians view people with disabilities in the future.

  15. Catherine Hogan says

    This is really amazing!! What a fantastic opportunity for your students to gain experience on a cleft palate team and to experience first hand the impact of cultural influences on our work as SLPs. Keep up the amazing work!

  16. Belinda Bukari says

    Ghana is proud of this fantastic opportunity given to it by The Teacher’s College, Columbia University. We teachers in the Special Needs Education have benefited a lot from this project.Through this collaboration, the teachers in the unit schools have had the chance to attend an in-service training on Augmentative and Alternative communication with funding through Cate Crowley(Dr). Again, their recent visit opened a way for the unit schools by her meeting with the Minister of Education and other stake holders in Education which has opened the closed doors which we had tried to open a long time ago.
    Had it not been this project, I don’t think I could have gone far by winning The Teacher-in-Residence Award 2011. Cate played a major role in my selection process by writing a Reference Letter on my behalf to The Bridge School and based on the skills and knowledge that I had gained from her and the students that she has been bringing every year, I was given a Scientific Travel Fellowship Award by The Central Coast Children’s Foundation to travel to Spain for my face-to-face interview that won me the Bridge School’s Award.
    Special Needs Education teachers now possess the skills to handle kids with speech difficulty in the classroom and we are very grateful to all who have been contributing to this Great Project and may God bless them all.
    Most of our classrooms now can boast of AAC materials for instruction.
    I am traveling again to The Republic of South Africa for the 2nd Regional AAC Conference next month and will be presenting a paper on all that Ghana with special reference to The Unit Schools with Methodist Unit School where I teach as a point of reference has taken AAC to with emphasis on how we go about handling kids with speech problems in our various classrooms.
    Had it not been this project, we wouldn’t know where we would be by now and I am so proud to be benefiting from the project and Ghana as a whole.
    Cate and her students are always hardworking and I thank God for making Ghana to benefit from such a project.
    Now, people are paying attention to special needs education in Ghana and I am very grateful. Long Live the Project……………………………

  17. Joyce Huh says

    As one of the students from the first group sent to Ghana nearly three years ago, the experiences from that trip continue to inform and shape my work as a practicing SLP. One of my most poignant memories was seeing the surprised looks across the faces of Ghanian parents during a q/a session about autism, as my group members and I informed them that autism is prevalent across the whole globe. There were people there who, up until that moment where my group members and I presented this info, believed that autism only occurred in Ghana. Not only was I humbled by this moment, but it has redefined for me what it means to be a “competent clinician.” Not everyone has access to information, resources, or the most up to date research that we in the field have access to. It is not enough to just “treat” a patient; it is crucial to continually keep parents in the loop and, above all, strive to be advocates alongside our clinical work.