Volunteering in Cambodia


Q&A with Luisa Russo

Nov 27, 2014

Luisa Russo is an Australian speech therapist volunteering in Cambodia . She came to Cambodia in October to volunteer with OIC Cambodia, and has been an incredible asset on the team. We don’t know how we survived without her!

We asked Luisa (top left in the photo above, at a speech therapy training session in Siem Reap, Cambodia) what it’s like to volunteer with OIC.

How did you find out about OIC Cambodia?

I was finishing my studies in development and anthropology and I’m interested in how speech therapy is going in the developing world, so I’m always keeping track of it. There was a call for volunteers on the SPA [Speech Pathology Australia] website… my best friend was also living here [in Phnom Penh] so it worked well. I made contact and went from there.

Tell us about your professional background.

I studied a four-year bachelor at La Trobe, worked at an autistic school for a year, and then worked a year in Samoa as a speech therapy trainer. That was very interesting and I learned a lot. It really got me interested in how speech therapy works in the developing world.

I traveled a bit, went back home, worked for a couple of years with people from migrant backgrounds, a lot of Vietnamese and Sudanese, and I really enjoyed that. And then I decided to do my master’s in development and anthropology.

How is working as a speech therapist in Cambodia different from working in Australia?

In Cambodia I’m still learning about the culture here and the implications that has for speech therapy and for disabilities. We can teach local people skills, but they really need to make it their own profession, because they know the culture. What outsiders tell them to do is not going to be sustainable, it’s not going to be effective.

Speech therapy, maybe like psychology or other things, is hugely dependent on culture. A surgeon may not have the same tools [in Cambodia] but he can do the same thing. Speech therapy is all about interaction, which is all about culture.

What have you been doing for OIC?

I’ve been looking into grants, helping with an ethics application, doing a lot of research, and making contact with speechies here and in neighbouring countries as well, hearing what neighbouring countries like Bangladesh and Malaysia have done to get their speech therapy programs off the ground.

Why is speech therapy important?

It’s frustrating thinking there’s all these people sitting there and they could do so much, but no one’s helping them, so they’re going to live these lives much more closed off than they would otherwise be.

Speech therapy lets people unlock their potential, lets them form relationships and gives them tools so they can be independent and participate in their families and school.