We all dream of an overseas holiday – maybe touring the countries of Europe, hitting the snowfields of Japan, soaking up the atmosphere of the Big Apple.
For Ability Centre speech pathologist Kirsty Pitcher though, the reality of her next adventure abroad will be very different.
The 24-year-old will be joining a group of 8 allied health professionals from Western Australia on a two-week mission to make a difference to the lives of some of the world’s most underprivileged.
She’ll be part of an aid team run by not-for-profit Australian group ‘Equal Health’ and will spend two weeks at Anandaniketan in Katwa, West Bengal working at a community that provides residential care to 350 adults and children with intellectual and physical disabilities.
Taking the skills she uses in her work as a speech pathologist at Ability Centre, Kirsty is most keen to spend time with the kids in the shelter (many of them orphans) teaching new communication skills to those that are non-verbal.
She also hopes to work with the carers at Anandaniketan, helping them better understand how to deal with children and adults with swallowing difficulties (a condition known as Dysphagia), a common symptom for people with cerebral palsy that impacts on their ability to eat safely.
It’s been a long-held dream of Kirsty’s to help underprivileged kids in some of the world’s poorest areas, but she’s under no illusion that where she is going and what she will find when she gets there will be very different from life in Perth.
“There’s no doubt the health workers and carers at the Anandaniketan centre where we will be working do the best they can under very difficult circumstances, but we’ve been told to prepare ourselves for a challenging environment. I can only hope that the skills I take and the ideas I have will help this community long after the two weeks we’re there,” said Kirsty.
She is hoping that the work she does at Ability Centre with children with disabilities will prove a huge asset during her trip to Bengal, providing her with a better understanding of how she can make a big impact in a short time.
Kirsty will be joined by other WA volunteers including other speech pathologists, occupational therapists, a physio, therapy assistant and two education assistants who will work with kids with special needs at the centre’s on-site school.
This trip to Anandaniketan will be the first in two years by Equal Health, with last year’s postponed due to security concerns. As a result Kirsty has been told to prepare herself for the overwhelming greeting she is likely to receive from the children in particular, who adore the volunteers from Equal Health.
“I know this will be an emotionally life-changing experience and I’m sure I will struggle with how unfair life is for the kids and adults at Anandaniketan. I also know even before I go that I will want to go back again and keep doing everything I can to make a difference, however small.”
“I know it’s going to be tough but I think the hardest part will come at the end when we have to say goodbye,” said Kirsty.