Kathmandu was no easy trek for speech pathologist

TUTH speech pathologist Prabha Dawadee, volunteer Athena Chan and TUTH speech pathologist Anil Adhikary.

Senior speech pathologist Athena Chan has returned to western Sydney after spending a year establishing a clinic in the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu.

Part of the Australian Volunteers Program, this opportunity of a lifetime enabled Athena to work as a speech pathologist at Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital (TUTH).

“Volunteering in Nepal helped me step outside my comfort zone, think outside the box, build resilience and broadened my perspective on different cultures,” Athena said.

“Adapting to life in Kathmandu was not easy. I didn’t speak the language and it was difficult adjusting to their healthcare system which had poor internal and external communications, shortage of healthcare professionals and limited resources.

Athena’s day hike in Nepal with the Himalayan mountains in the background.

“The skills I gained will help me in my WSLHD speech pathology role especially when I’m working with children and families from diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.”

Nepali people travel more than 14 hours to receive care at TUTH, one of Nepal’s major tertiary hospitals.

Athena joined a team of local medical and allied health professionals to establish a dysphagia service for people who have difficulty swallowing.

They also raised the awareness of speech pathology in the community, built capacity for more local speech pathologists to work at the hospital and improved the quality of health services.

“My role as a senior clinical speech pathologist is to provide leadership, team coordination and governance of our service to improve the health and developmental outcomes for children in our communities,” she said.

“Being able to share my skills and knowledge and make a positive impact on the lives of others and advocate for speech pathology internationally was a great privilege.”

TUTH speech pathologist Prabha Dawadee and volunteer Athena Chan prepare for a presentation.

Athena and the speech pathology team from TUTH also introduced the International Dysphagia Diet Standardisation Initiative to Nepal. This initiative enables healthcare professionals to use correct, common terminology to describe food textures and drink thickness for people with swallowing difficulties.

“We were able to educate healthcare professionals, carers, families and patients with dysphagia on safe and appropriate food and fluid consistencies,” Athena said.

“I will always cherish the extraordinary experiences I had and I’m humbled by the warm generosity of everyone I met in Nepal.”

Athena (middle) gives a presentation to the Nepalese Dietician Association.

Athena travelled with her partner Kashi Samaraweera a senior technical lead for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. He worked on a separate volunteer assignment with local government.

The WSLHD Child and Family Speech Pathology team is responsible for the assessment and management of communication and feeding difficulties in children. For more information or to access WSLHD Child and Family Health Services, click here.