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SLP Student helps Congo residents enhance hearing

July 27, 2016
Amanda Hitchens with children
SLP student helps in the Congo.

Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders 2012 graduate Amanda Hitchins parlayed $2,000 in donations to help build and equip the first soundproof auditory testing room in the eastern section of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Hitchins sold homemade greeting cards, received funding from friends and family over the past year, and accepted several hundred dollars raised during bake sales by Institute students in the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association club.

“It’s amazing how small amounts of money can go such a long way in other countries,” says Hitchins, who graduated with a Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology degree. “I can’t say enough about the people who contributed to something they knew nothing about other than I was passionate about it.”

The lab replaced a broom closet at the Centre for Education and Community Based Rehabilitation, a nonprofit residential school that serves developmentally and physically challenged students.

The connection was fostered through a relationship she developed in 2006, when the Hunter College senior participated in a sponsored trip to Tanzania.

“I realized I wanted to return and do something tangible that could really impact people, and not just go back and do a medical tourist visit,” says Hitchins, who through contacts from her first visit connected with the center’s director, Dr. Ismael Byaruhanga, shortly after graduating from the Institute.

First, with the help of classmate Laura Kessel ’12, Hitchins refurbished and shipped several walkers from Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center in New Hampshire. In spring 2014, she delivered a portable audiometer donated by the Coalition for Global Hearing Health that is being used in the new soundproof room. She stayed for several days, training staff and seeing dozens of clients with conditions that included anoxic brain injuries from birth, Down syndrome,suspected autism, fluency disorders, dysphagia, and aphasia.

“While we have a very long way to go in optimizing hearing, speech, and language services for the children, this was a wonderful and sustainable first step,” she says.