Arizona USA: Amanda Beneke, a speech therapist is headed to Zambia in May

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By JOHN GUTEKUNST
Parker Pioneer
IN THE PHOTO: Amanda Beneke (right), a speech therapist from Parker, Arizona, is shown with Hope, a boy she worked with in Lusaka, Zambia. The boy’s mother changed his name to Hope because, after his therapy and treatment, she said she could see there was hope for him. Submitted photo.

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Parker resident Amanda Beneke will go to Lusaka, Zambia this May on a special mission to train graduate students at the University of Zambia to work with disabled and special needs children. She said this work is being done in a culture where such children are often considered a curse, and few resources are devoted to them.

She’s a volunteer with Connective Link Among Special needs Programs. Based in Dallas, Texas, CLASP is a non-profit outreach program from American educators to disabled persons in other nations. The program originally began with speech therapists, but was expanded to include other special needs and disabilities as well. Until December 2013, Beneke was a speech therapist at the University of Texas in Dallas.

Shannon Benton, who is also a speech therapist, founded CLASP. She and Beneke were co-workers in Dallas.

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CLASP’s state goal is to be “A Voice for the Voiceless.”

This will be Beneke’s third trip to Lusaka. They have started a graduate program at the University of Zambia, and they have 19 students enrolled. Their goal is to make their program self-sustaining: the Zambian students will keep their work going without the assistance of their American teachers.

Beneke conducts classes for the students over the Internet. She said these are the same courses she took in graduate school. She added it could be frustrating at times maintaining an Internet connection with a Third World country like Zambia.

The Zambians she’s met have impressed with her their kindness and generosity, Beneke said. She said the culture is very people-oriented. She added she was very impressed with the church services. The people dress in their finest clothes, and the services themselves can last up to five hours.

Beneke said Zambia is a very poor country and the poverty is obvious. It can be seen in broken down buildings and dust and dirt everywhere. She said the hospitals are outdated and lack resources.

Beneke said the attitude towards persons with disabilities in Zambian culture is very different form what one sees in America. A child with a disability is seen as a curse, or as punishment for the parents doing something wrong. Such children are not seen as having the same worth as other children. They are often denied food or essential care. Some are kept inside or hidden under beds for their whole lives.

On their website, www.claspinternational.org, the groups says 83 percent of African families with disabled children hide them from the public. Only 38 percent of disabled Africans receive rehabilitation services.

One of CLASP’s goals, Beneke said, is to show how, with training and therapy, such persons can be productive, useful members of society.

One of the ways CLASP gets its message out is through theater groups that perform in villages around Lusaka. Beneke said this is the best way to get any message out in Zambia. When a performance is announced, local residents will come to watch. She said this also helps them to find those persons with disabilities or their families who could benefit from what they have to offer.

Beneke recalled a little boy she met named Hope. Like many other disabled children, he had been kept hidden away for much of his life. However, when his mother saw what could be done with training and therapy, she changed his name to Hope because she saw there was hope for him.

Beneke will be in Lusaka, Zambia from May 16 to May 28. She will focus on speech therapy for children and giving the graduate students practical experience.

To find out more about CLASP, go to their website, www.claspinternational.org.

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