Cusco, Peru | August 2018

Communication: It is the way we navigate the world around us, interact with our friends, family and coworkers and express who we are. Communication could be something as profound as saying “I love you” to something as essential as saying whether or not you are hungry or do not feel well. For 9 years old Jheny Lupe Florez, communication was not an option as the extent of her communicational skills was a few unintelligible sounds and no speech. As she suffers from poor motor control, she is not able to move on her own or properly verbally communicate; coming into screening day her mother carried her into the speech and therapy room to meet with Byrna Bornstein, the Speech-Language Pathologist on the MMFC Cusco mission.

Upon first impressions and interactions, the ability for Jheny to communicate did not seem promising, but a session was scheduled for her later in week to see what could be done to help her. On Thursday, Jheny was carried into the speech therapy room and sat on her mother’s lap during her session with Mrs. Bornstein. The girl’s mother began to explain that in their village, located four hours away from Cusco, she goes to a school that has one teacher, in one small classroom and every grade is compiled into one class. Already, it was clear that the opportunities for Jheny to learn basic communication skills in the academic environment was not hopeful. Her mother believed that Jheny could read a few basic words, but to her understanding that was the extent of Jheny’s abilities. To start the session off, Mrs. Bornstein took a piece of paper and drew a picture of different fruits in the four corners of the paper. She asked Jheny to point with her hand to the fruit when it was named. With her mother supporting her arm, Jheny was able to accurately point out each fruit. Already this was a breakthrough; suddenly it became clear this young girl who was believed to have little to no communicative response skills was able interact with assistance.

The next step was utilizing emoticons, different emotions drawn through facial expressions such as happy, sad and angry. Similarly, when asked to point out to a named emoticon, Jheny was able to do so with her arm being stabilized. Jheny did the same for words and sentences. It was clear she could read! When Mrs. Bornstein asked Jheny how she was feeling, Jheny pointed to the happy emoticon. Mrs. Bornstein asked, “Are you happy because you are able to communicate,” and through body language it was inferred that she said yes. Then Jheny pointed to sad, and again Mrs. Bornstein guessed, “Are you sad because you want to communicate but it’s difficult for you to do so.” Once again through body language it was clear Jheny agreed to Mrs. Bornstein’s statement. Suddenly though, this whole opportunity for new communication for Jheny became real: Jheny could communicate through pointing. Mrs. Bornstein suggested an organizational system to implement in Jheny’s home; around the house, cards could have actions or objects written on it so that Jheny could point to what she wants such as a salty or sweet snack, or whether she wants to wear a dress or pants, simply by pointing at different cards. Basic everyday decisions that were never imaginable could be at her fingertips, quite literally.

Jheny for her entire life has been physically trapped in her body, unable to communicate with her family and friends and unable to move on her own. However, after nine years, in this one week, this one visit, a window has been opened for Jheny and her family. Hopefully, this skill, the ability to learn to communicate, is now going to be a part of her daily life for the first time in her entire life. Many of us learn to take for granted the gift of communication and expression because it is something that has always been a given; the ability to freely tell our family and friends when we need help, love or support is not a reality for everyone and for many years it was not for Jheny either. Now, with this newfound form of communication that she and her parents learned through the help of Mrs. Bornstein, she will be able to slowly take back her life into her own hands and express the feelings she has and more importantly the person that she is. The ability to communicate will open a whole new world for Jheny, starting this week here in Cusco, Peru.

– Daniel Kelly