SLP Student helps Congo residents enhance hearing

November 19, 2018
Alumna Amanda Hitchins CSD'12 with Ismael Byaruhanga Kusemererwa  Nov 2018
Alumna Amanda Hitchins CSD'12 with Ismael Byaruhanga Kusemererwa.

Amanda Hitchins continues efforts to improve services to children and adults in the eastern section of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Since generating $2,000 in donations while as a student and traveling to help build and equip the first soundproof auditory testing room at the Center for Education and Community Based Rehabilitation, the 2012 Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology graduate has continued to grow the partnership with its director, Dr. Ismael Byaruhanga Kusemererwa. The pair were in Boston for the 2018 ASHA Convention, and stopped by the IHP campus to present their work. During her time as a speech student, Hitchins sold homemade greeting cards, received funding from friends and family, and accepted several hundred dollars raised during bake sales by MGH 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. “I can’t say enough about the people who contributed to something they knew nothing about other than I was passionate about it.”

The connection was fostered through a relationship she developed in 2006, when as an undergrad 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 Dr. Byaruhanga Kusemererwa, shortly after graduating from the Institute. Soon after, a broom closet in the center was converted to the auditory testing room and help solve a problem that might seem incompressible to many – the entire country had just one certified audiologist, meaning that services were almost impossible to get.

That wasn't the only time she assisted the center. 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's currently being used in the 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,” says Hitchins, who received the Institute's 2015 Emerging Leader Alumni Award for her efforts.