Many of us dream about the opportunity to travel abroad and serve our brothers and sisters who have not had the physical luxury to be born in a country where basic healthcare needs are readily available. We watch infomercials, and our hearts break as we see children living unsafe structures and drinking contaminated water. We cringe at the reports of young women being sold through human trafficking, and of how HIV/AIDS is consuming Africa (among other countries). On July 28, speech-language pathologist Tiffany K. Daniels, 29, boarded a plane and headed to Zambia for a trip with Connective Link Among Special needs Programs (CLASP) International that would forever change her life. Daniels, who currently works for the Dallas Independent School District, was chosen because of her heart for community outreach, which is professionally supported by her work certification and licensing to serve as team leader, or supervisor, on the two week long excursion.
W: How were you chosen for this trip? What were the qualifications? D: I attended an informational about CLASP International to learn more of what the organization was about after hearing a brief presentation on the need for Speech Pathologist and other allied health professions to travel to Africa and help children with disabilities. An application process was available online and an applicant was able to choose whether they would like to help with the mission of the organization as a stateside member (one who helps raise funds, find resources and materials, helps with planning for the different camps, and spreads the word about what CLASP's mission is doing/has done in South Africa) or a travel team member (one who does everything that the stateside member does, but travels to Zambia and implements the works). For my profession, qualifications included being certified and licensed, having specialty in one of the areas to be a team leader/supervisor, and having a heart for community outreach.
W: What were your thoughts about the trip leading up to it? How did you prepare mentally/emotionally/spiritually? D: Leading up to the trip, I had a lot of mixed emotions. I was excited, yet nervous. I felt unprepared, yet somewhat over prepared. I talked with one of my friends who had taken a trip similar to this one, but in Haiti. He told me about his trip and how much of a life changing experience it was for him. Even after listening to him, the feelings that I had did not change completely, but it made me a little more calm. I went back home to [Chatom,] Alabama for a weekend because I wanted to personally thank my church family for the $1000 dollars that they raised for me. There, my pastor called me to the altar and prayed for me. As soon as he touched my head, I just started crying because I knew in my heart that I was about to experience a once in a lifetime opportunity and I was going to be able to make a difference in not only a special person's life, but I was going to be helping someone in AFRICA!. After seeing my family and friends back home and hearing their encouragement, I felt at ease and was ready to go!
W: What was your first reaction when you landed in Africa? When you made it to where the team would be working? D: We arrived in Zambia at sunrise and the first thing that came to my mind was..."I made it to the Motherland!". As we cramped into a minivan with our luggage, we rode through the city to our hotel. There were a lot of people walking to work, uniformed kids walking to school, and many people on the streets. We saw a lot of fruit/vegetable stands and also other vendors with different crafts that were being sold. It was amazing to see people walking and carrying crates and baskets on their heads. Also, the women carried their babies in cloth carriers on their backs.
When we arrived at our hotel, I was kind of impressed. It seemed very americanized. I mean, I didn't think that we would be at a hut or anything, but the accommodations were nice. There were several different camps that we set up which included the Special School, Craniofacial, Deaf School, Adult, NICU, and community outreach. A lot of my time was spent at the Special School. I was kind of prepared to work at the Special School, so I had my professional cap on as I observed the setting and different classrooms. I was ready to work with the administrator and teachers on planning and implementing strategies to improve classroom management so my mentality was completely focused.
In Zambia, children who have disabilities that may show that they are "different" are considered cursed. So, those children are hidden away because their families think that there are not any treatments or ways to help them. We gave them resources and information to get the help that was needed if they suspected anyone who may have those situations. But, as I spoke with one woman, her spirit really touched me. She definitely did not have the same views as the majority of the community. This woman who I felt (from a “worldly” point of view) was poor, didn't have teeth, and her front doorway to her house was covered with a sheet, but from a "spiritual" lifestyle and the words she gave me, I knew she was rich in spirit. She said that God loves all children no matter what disability they may have, and we as humans have to be accepting knowing that we are all of His creations because He does not make a mistake. She continued to say how we have to understand that whatever we struggle with or may lack, God will provide.
As a person who lives a decent, comfortable lifestyle, I thought very hard about my own faith. Here I was talking to a woman who did not have many possessions, but one thing she did have was an abundance of faith. I wanted to be able to gain that much faith in God and just learn to be able to trust Him completely. I really admired this lady and was taken aback by the fact that she actually helped me, when I thought that I was there to help her.
W: What kind of work were you responsible for doing once you made it to Africa? D: CLASP started a Masters Degree Program at the University of Zambia while we were there. The reason being is because there is only one Speech Pathologist in the whole country. So, with this program, twenty students were admitted and in two years, there will be Speech Pathologist who will be competent and certified to treat people with communication disorder. My responsibilities included supervising both the American and the Zambian graduate students . I was also team leader for the Special School. My team worked together to provide assessments/screenings for children with suspected speech disorders. We developed Home Education Programs for families with children with disabilities, as well. The team conducted teacher workshops and training for classroom management at University Teaching Hospital Special School. Each team member rotated to assist with the other camps too in testing and providing treatment.
However, the area that made me really feel like I was in South Africa was during the community outreaches which were held at a couple of different compounds. I had never seen a place like this. We hear about the way people live in parts of Africa all the time through media. However, to see this lifestyle first hand does something to a person. Well at least to me. It is kind of hard to describe...but we walked house to house providing education to the people in the communities and gave out information about disabilities (autism, cerebral palsy, premature babies, down syndrome) and infectious diseases.
W: How do you feel this trip has affected your thoughts about God's purpose for your life? D: I honestly feel that I have known my purpose for a while because I have grown to be passionate about working with children and wanting them to be succesful in education. So, when I came back from Africa, I was very excited about returning to work after our summer break. It is like I have been more motivated to carry out my purpose in not only a compassionate way, but with a more concrete understanding of my purpose. Before, I understood, this is my job to work with kids and do my best to help them because that is what I love doing. But now I acknowledge the power that I possess in knowing God's purpose in my life.
I feel that we all have passions in life, but we may sometimes waver on fulfilling that passion or purpose when there are difficulties or obstacles that can cause us to give up. But, when a power is ignited and you are able to carry out a task when you had no idea of how/where the solution came from, it just solidifies that you are where you are for a reason, and that God has been preparing you by giving you the education, knowledge, and confidence to fulfill His purpose. That is how I feel about this trip. I felt that I was being tested in a lot of areas outside of my comfort zone. I was unsure about many of my responsibilities and often wondered what I was going to do to supervise the graduate students, be able to relate to the teachers by providing beneficial information to help restructure the classrooms, or how would I provide appropriate strategies for parents knowing that they have limited resources. However, when you are being used by God and understand that "it's not about you", it just comes natural. It's like I really "get it" now. I know that I am in the field of education for a reason.
W: What advice would you give to someone who is considering applying for a position on a team such as this? D: It's simple. Go! But go and embrace the fact that your life and mindset will be changed.
Daniels and Zambian community members served by the CLASP International team.
Daniels (left, back) and community members served by he CLASP International team.