Last year, Sydney’s Trinity Grammar was the first school in Australia to participate in Day Without Speech, a new event created to raise awareness and funds for OIC, an organisation dedicated to assisting children with speech impediments in Cambodia.
Both Day Without Speech and OIC were founded by physiotherapist and Trinity alumni Weh Yeoh during a trip to Cambodia when he noticed a lack of awareness, funding and resources given to speech pathology.
“A lot of the organisations there are doing really good work, and they told me that one of the areas they lacked knowledge in was speech therapy,” he says, adding that support for children with swallowing disorders was also an issue.
“If a child can’t swallow well, food and liquid can go into the lungs, and that child can get pneumonia and die eventually, so it’s quite a severe issue.
“OIC has been working towards establishing speech therapy as a profession and training the first generation of speech therapists...
“We have an exit strategy by 2030, where we hope to have 100 speech therapists employed by government, and then the idea is that the government will then take on that profession after we leave, and then we’ll be able to give everybody that needs the service access to it.”
After unsuccessful attempts at securing traditional funding through methods like writing grant applications, Weh decided to start Day Without Speech at a friend’s suggestion.
“The idea was that we also want to give people in Australia the ability to understand and empathise, particularly talking about school students,” he explains.
“So we thought if we got them to stop talking for part of the day and as they do that, they’re learning what it’s like to have a communication difficulty.”
Last year’s event at Trinity Grammar was a great success. Tricia Duke, a Year 6 Trinity teacher and Day Without Speech committee member, recalls the enthusiasm with which her students approached the event – deciding to extend the original duration of their silence from a couple of hours to a whole day.
“So pretty much that spread across Year 6, they weren’t just going to do it for a little bit, they were going to do it for a whole day because it was really much more of a challenge.”
She adds that the program has been great for raising students to be aware of global issues. As they’re growing into adults and so on, they’re instilled with this idea that they can make a change. "The project has had some additional unforeseen benefits as well – Yeoh remarks that the silence gives students an “empty space to be creative” without the stimulation of talking and smartphones.
“The school is very socially focused. “What I notice about Trinity is that when you walk into the school and ask a boy where to go, they won’t just point and say ‘walk in this direction’, they’ll actually take you with them.”
The future looks bright for the project, according to Yeoh. “We’ve since done it in a number of Sydney schools and also in Melbourne, as well as Singapore and in Phnom Penh in Cambodia.