Sonia Aboagye, Director of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences at the University of Health and Allied Health Sciences of Ghana joins host Lynn Vartan to discuss treating medicine in Ghana as well as her experiences and exploration of identity as a women in medicine in Africa.
Video and other resources from this presentation can be found on the A.P.E.X. website at: https://www.suu.edu/apex/2021/02-18-aboagye.html
[00:00:03] Hey, everyone, this is Lynn Vartan, and you are listening to the APEX Hour on KSUU Thunder 91.1. In this show, you get more personal time with the guests who visit Southern Utah University from all over learning more about their stories and opinions beyond their presentations on stage. We will also give you some new music to listen to and hope to turn you on to some new sounds and new genres. You can find us here every Thursday at three p.m. or on the Web at suu.edu/apex. But for now, welcome to this week's show here on Thunder 91.1.
[00:00:58] All right, everyone, well, this has been an absolute adventure today, we are here on a Friday, which is an unusual time for us. This is Lynn Vartan. You're listening to the APEX Hour. Thanks so much for joining us. We're here on a Friday because we just absolutely wanted to make sure that we have our guest online today. And so our guest is zooming in from Ghana. And she's just an amazing professor, scientist, woman of medicine and inspiration. And her name is Sonia Aboagye. So welcome in, Sonia. How are you?
[00:01:39] Hi Lynn, I'm very well. How are you doing?
[00:01:44] I'm just great. You have been such a trooper. Your APEX talk yesterday was so inspiring and so wonderful. And you've been doing class visits with chemistry students, a class on perseverance and resilience and just all kinds of different things. But to start our conversation, can you just tell me a little bit about how your life has developed and who you are now in case anybody is just getting into your life for the first time?
[00:02:15] OK, so from growing up in Ghana for the first five years of my life to being educated in the U.K. and training as a speech language pathologist, I'm now taking my skills to Ghana, where I am developing the profession of speech-language pathology, training Ghana's first cohorts of therapists to really go and address the multitude of needs of people with communication disabilities. So that's what I do.
[00:02:59] Tell me a little bit about the kinds of people that, I know originally, you worked quite a bit with younger people and now you're working more with a wider range, but specific disabilities, a bit more and specific types of cases like stroke victims, I think.
[00:03:18] Yes, yes, stroke is among the top 10 killers, and in Ghana, the number one killer is malaria, actually. And but stroke is in the top 10 partly because of diet, lifestyle, and stroke is still on the rise in this part of the world, whereas in the West, and statistics show that it's going down. The incidence is going down. So a large part of the adult caseload is made up of people who have had strokes. And then I also work with quite a lot of stammer as stammering is again something that particularly affects men more than women.
[00:04:12] Oh, interesting. Do we know why that is?
[00:04:19] Men tend to be more fragile when it comes to disability than in general, actually.
[00:04:24] Oh, fascinating.
[00:04:26] I had no idea.
[00:04:27] You know, whether it's autism, whether it's stammering, you typically see more men than women, I think with stammering the adult population at something like four to one. So four men to every woman. So there are quite a few stammering cases. I also see people with hearing impairment quite a lot and a lot of children with cerebral palsy. Quite a lot of them also have something called dysphagia, which is difficulty with eating, drinking and swallowing. So sometimes they need to have a non oral feeding. So either a nasogastric tube or a breast trustme, which is feeding through the stomach directly.
[00:05:24] Oh, wow.
[00:05:26] We need to modify either the texture of food because they don't know how to chew or the size of food that they're given, the size of the portions or the pace at which there are so many different things. So dysphagia is a big, big area.
[00:05:47] I know you've studied quite a bit of audiology and hearing and I wonder if you might share. We haven't had a chance to get into the technical aspects of treatment. And I wonder if you could share a bit about that. I mean, as much as it makes sense to just sort of about how you how treatment occurs in some of these cases.
[00:06:11] OK, so in terms of, for example, many of those disorders that you're particular interested in, you were talking about the dysphasia, which is really interesting.
[00:06:24] I'm curious about how you work with stroke patients and speech rehabilitation, for example.
[00:06:30] OK, stroke is like throwing a stone at a pane of glass. If you throw it, if you throw a stone at a pane of glass, the way that crack will be different to how it would crack if I threw a stone. So what I'm trying to show is that the stroke, the impact can be different and it can be wide ranging. So and everybody is slightly different. So and part of the reason for that is where in the brain was affected by the stroke. One of the so initially when we when patients are referred to us, we look at the medical history, we look at the CT scan or the MRI, and then we undertake various assessments. So we we look at whether there's paralysis, we test and we get them to do various tests to see which cranial nerves may have been affected to know to kind of steer us towards particular types of we have indication. One of the things that we often see is that people find it difficult to remember the names of things right. When they I see quite a lot of cases. So they'll see you'll show them a picture and they will recognize. They can't get the word out, so there's a disconnect between that part of the brain that recognizes and that part of the brain that stores the names. And what we try to do is to link those, join, join them up again, because they've been disconnected by the strength and we have various techniques for doing that.
[00:08:43] Well, that's just wonderful to kind of get a little bit more of a specific idea of what the kind of rehabilitation, what the process is like. So thank you for sharing those things. One of the things that we talked about a bit yesterday was about the the numbers of people in your field in Africa, in Ghana specifically, and how that's been evolving since you've been there. And I wonder if you could comment a little bit more about that and share that with us.
[00:09:15] Yeah, I think well, I let me go back to 2003, because that's when I first really wet my feet in terms of speech language pathology annd at that point, that was two speech and language therapists, both of whom trained in the United States actually in the late 70s and early 80s. But, you know, they haven't been able to train up anybody because no courses had been established or anything like that. So it was really I think it was 2013 when the first speech language course was was started at my university and it was very difficult to even recruit people because people didn't know what speech and language therapy, I mean, even in the West. People struggle to get their heads around so people didn't sign up for the course. And initially they just assign people to that course because they couldn't give them a place on any other course. And so the first cohort was four students, one of whom dropped out because he was like, I can't do this. What is this? So and there was one speech therapist, a male, who was who was teaching the clinical aspect of things. And then he he left after a year or so. The second year, they didn't recruit. They were thinking about closing down the schools or putting these people elsewhere, other courses. And they said they wouldn't they wouldn't. They wanted to become enamored by the course of study, the field of study, and they were determined to see it through. And eventually they managed to get various part time speech language therapists to come in and support. But it wasn't until I came in 2018, really, the numbers started to go up and the profile of this field started to, to, to go up. There's now a Master's in Speech-Language Pathology course that was launched a couple of years ago at the University of Ghana. And that's a two year course. So people who graduated in other programs can can retrain, but they only accept students every every two years. So they take 12 students every other year. So it's going to take a long time unless we can get other programs going.
[00:12:25] And we should say that the population of Ghana is how many people?
[00:12:30] It's getting to 30 million.
[00:12:33] Right. And so we're talking about now, I mean, when you started just a handful and even still just essentially-.
[00:12:42] Twenty five servicing millions. And that's-
[00:12:46] I mean, what a huge-.
[00:12:48] Ratio of one therapist to one point something million.
[00:12:55] It's, it's not, it's not great is it?
[00:12:57] I mean it's staggering. In the conversation with one of the students, they were saying that in our county, in Iron County alone, they had something like one full time person always with for assistance and to compare that, and that's in our small county compared to those numbers. So it's really interesting. I mean, you have done so much work to increase it and bring attention to it. So I'd love to get into more on that. But one of the things I was so excited to do with you this hour is to share music from Ghana.
[00:13:31] Oh, yeah. Yeah.
[00:13:33] So you have given me a few. We'll try to get through as many of them as possible. But the first one, and I thought you might be able to tell us a little bit about each of them, is a Daddy Lumba song called "Obi Ate Meso Buo," is that correct?
[00:13:50] Yes. Yeah.
[00:13:51] Tell us a little bit about why you put that song in here and what we're going to hear.
[00:13:58] OK, so this song I actually primarily chose that because of the drums. And I know that you're a percussionist, so-
[00:14:07] I am!
[00:14:10] Drumming is such a big aspect of their culture. And so this this song fuzes traditional drumming alongside highlife, which is a genre of music which is very popular here.
[00:14:31] Highlife is a great style.
[00:14:33] Yeah. And but the song itself is, is a message to your ex saying that somebody loves you even if he doesn't. That's a fancy word.
[00:14:45] Well, here you go, Daddy Lumba, "Obi Ate Meso Buo."
[00:16:50] OK, so welcome back to the APEX Hour, that song was "Obi Ate Meso Buo" by Daddy Lumba, and those of you listening might have gotten a little extra part of our conversation because we're still having a bit of technical issues. But in the meantime, let's welcome back Sonia Aboagye. Thank you so much for sharing that song. And I think you'll definitely need to unmute now and then we'll continue our conversation.
[00:17:20] Yeah, sure.
[00:17:22] Thank you so much for your patience on that. One of the things that's been interesting is to kind of talk in your story specifically about the sense of identity and how identity plays out in so many different ways. And I'm just so inspired by the openness and warmth which with you have approached all of your different senses of identity as a woman in science, as a Ghanaian born woman returning to Ghana as a student, as a woman from Africa, raised in Wimbledon, raised in the U.K., and I wonder if you just might talk in a little more depth about that path of identity and some of the things that you felt. And maybe we can get into it a little bit deeper than we have had before.
[00:18:24] Oh, I mean, growing up in the U.K., even I grew up as you as you just mentioned, in Wimbledon, which was and continues to be a very white, upper upper class, upper middle class part of the world. And, you know, I was the only only black girl in my school. Similarly, when I went to university, I was the only black person on my course. And but I, I didn't really define myself by my color. I just defined myself by values. I guess occasionally, obviously, I'd be reminded of my of my color, my difference and, you know, people's perceptions, negative perceptions sometimes. But I didn't define myself based on my gender or my color just to define myself based on. My values and my, my, my, my personal outlook, it's as and being in Ghana now, I think I still define myself based on my values, but I find that because people's perception of me is of being an outsider, somebody who's and hopefully somebody who's a woman and somebody who's quite outspoken. I have to kind of deal with that, you know, their perceptions and and kind of like fight back against that. But I don't necessarily define myself in those terms. Does that make sense?
[00:20:29] Yeah. Do you think that that came from your parents? I mean, or is that just a natural feeling? I just wonder where that really incredible sense of self [came from].
[00:20:41] You know, the funny thing is, the really funny thing is I didn't become really conscious of myself, my color, until I actually moved to Ghana initially as a teenager when I came here to boarding school. And that was the first time that I was made aware that there were shades of black.
[00:21:11] Yeah, interesting.
[00:21:12] Right? And I just knew that, you know, you were either black or you were white or you're Indian or you were Chinese. But I didn't realize that there were fair skinned black people, black, black, black people, you know, and that people, black people were graded according to shade. That was a real shock. And I realized that I've been very lucky in that way growing up and where I had been because people were so accepting of me. I want to and I had friends of all nationalities.
[00:21:49] And I want to get into that a little bit more because that that reminds me a bit of, you know, I live in Utah now, but coming from Los Angeles, you know, I, let's just take the gender part of it. You know, people ask me a lot more now, you know, how do you feel about being a female percussionist, a female in music or this kind of thing? I, I get that question a lot more now than I used to. And I remember thinking that, well, in Los Angeles, I never really thought anything of it because you just immersed in it. And actually the racial component as well. You know, again, not really. I mean, having such a diverse population and then coming to a more homogenous population, that becomes a little bit more clear. It sounds a bit similar. So your time in England was perhaps more diverse and then you come to a more homogenous environment. How did that affect you? How did that make you feel? And how did you deal with that?
[00:23:02] Yeah, so I was I realized that people were judging me based on my color and, you know, I was because I'm the black. If you know what I mean. And for me, I kind of wondered whether I was not particularly attractive and it was very interesting is one of my best two of my best friends were very, very. Very fair skinned. One was mixed race and one just happened to be very, very fat and I saw how people gravitated towards them and then I was kind of off the table and that was really. That was that was weird and it was not what I expected. I didn't expect to go to, you know, my ancestral country and I should say that I was born in the U.K. I wasn't born in Ghana. And I actually have that experience of almost being discriminated against because of the shade of my skin. And I've felt less discriminated against in that sense, when I had been back in the U.K..
[00:24:25] What, do you think there are any lessons to be learned on a global scale in the United States where we're having really intense conversations about race and and about diversity and discrimination, all these things? And I wonder if if your experience and I wonder if you have any advice on on what we can learn or what we can do based on your unique experience.
[00:24:57] Um, I would say that it goes back to what I mentioned in my talk, which is that we need to look beyond what we can see, you know, judging people based on their size, whether and know going be on these tangibles and looking at the essence of who we are as human beings and that that essence has no color, has no size, has no shape, but is the most alive and dynamic part of us. And I think if we go back to that, then we'll be on the right path.
[00:25:35] That's beautiful. Thank you for that. Well, I think it's time for another song.
[00:25:40] And the second one that I have is an artist, Kojo Antwi? Am I saying that right?
[00:25:48] Yeah, Kojo Antwi.
[00:25:50] And the song is "Bomi Nkomo De." And I wonder if you could tell us a little bit about that song.
[00:25:58] Yeah, but it's it's an uplifting song. It's one of the songs, the first songs that I came across when I moved to Ghana as a teenager and all it this is simply sweet talking to your loved one, sharing sweet things.
[00:26:18] But that's fabulous. And I want to make sure everybody knows that if you're interested in any of this music, I put it all in the Played on APEX Hour playlist, which is an open playlist on Spotify. You can just find it by searching Played on APEX Hour and it's a playlist created by me, Lynn Vartan. Or you can go to our website, which is suu.edu/apex and look on the podcast and the playlist link will be there as well. So let's check out some of these Ghanaian artists here on KSUU Thunder 91.1.
[00:31:19] Well, it's hard not to feel good when you're listening to that, that's for sure. This is the APEX Hour. You're listening to KSUU Thunder 91.1.That song was "Bomi Nkomo De."And it's just, you know, an artist from Ghana that we've been introduced to by our guest, Sonia Aboagye. Welcome back, Sonia.
[00:31:41] Thank you.
[00:31:43] Well, I want to ask you about music, because that's something that we have been connecting on quite a bit. And I know that art in general is really important to you and music. And then in Ghana, you were talking about how dance is just an in culture, part of daily activity. And I wonder if you might comment about your feelings about music and the arts and just how you feel about that.
[00:32:11] Yeah, I think music is the thread that runs throughout life here, whether in traditional culture we have tribal dances, which often are accompanied by different drumming traditions. So each tribe has its own way of drumming and and, you know, its own style of dancing. Some of the dances, warrior dances, some dances to entice men, some to design, to show off men's virility. So we have the tribal dances and we also have the the dances that, you know, in church. When you go to church in Ghana, you dance, which is which is not. So when you're going to give to the collection, you you dance on the way, you know, and they'll be playing music. I know the first time I was like, wow. So it's very, very lively. And then we have dance as an everyday thing. So sometimes people will do rallies and town maybe for political party and you'll have a whole bunch of supporters and they'll all be jogging and dancing and stuff or people you'll just be walking down the road and there'll be some music playing. And you have a young boy or girl really making some amazing moves. And it's just people just seem to have this ingrained desire to express themselves through dance. Well, it's just part of the national identity, the national character fabric of the part of the fiber of being a Ghanaian.
[00:34:09] Yeah, that's incredible. Well, I know that we've been talking a lot about science, but, you know, these musical artists that you sent to me, I want to make sure to get to at least one more. And I know that there is one that holds a special place for you that you really wanted us to get to. So I wonder, can you tell us about that song and the artists and the the collaboration and what we're going to hear?
[00:34:34] Yeah, OK. If this artist I'm just trying to remember the full name because she's not actually a Ghanaian artist, she's from eastern, Southeast Africa.
[00:34:53] And but this song, "Jerusalema," has become an anthem for the whole of Africa. If you listen to it, it just gives you tingles. And there's just a pride and a confidence and a joy that comes through with this song, which is, you know, thing that, you know, no matter what our challenges are on this continent, we are a proud people and we're proud of our heritage. And we are a beautiful group of people. And you are welcomed into our world. So I just want to share the spirit of Africa with everyone.
[00:35:39] Well, perfect. The song is "Jerusalema." And yeah, listen. Have a listen. Here you go.
[00:41:26] Wow. Well, that song is very special. That is "Jerusalema" and the artist is named Nomcebo Zikode, though if you will look for it on Spotify, you can find it by Master KG as the primary artist. So you can definitely check that out. That is the recommendation by our guest today. And I'm so glad that we listened to, you're absolutely right. The tingles. You can just feel it. And Sonia Aboagye is our guest. Welcome back.
[00:41:58] Thank you. Thank you. I'm glad you like that song.
[00:42:01] Oh, man, I love it. I just feel like I need to hear that, you know, at least every other day to, like, help me get through things, you know? So thank you for sharing. It has a beautiful anthem quality, and her voice is just so incredible and so rich. So we have just a few minutes. And there's two things that I want to hear. One is I want to talk about for anybody who listens to this and maybe gets really turned on by what you do and what you're doing. What I know that there are so many needs, you know, to to really further speech pathology and speech therapy in Ghana. And I wonder if you could share with us some of the things we might not think about that might be helpful or might be useful to you.
[00:42:54] Yeah, so one of the things that we really want to promote right now is early intervention. So we want to be able to screen children for hearing defects. So we want to be able to get equipment to do that. So also acoustic emission tests, just little devices that test the functioning of the ear. And it means that we can pick up kids within the first few days of life who have a hearing impairment instead of seeing them when they're five or six years old, by which time, you know, it can be too late. The other thing is that a lot of kids here have little ear infections. And again, we would like to be able to diagnose those through equipment such as timpanometer, so that we can go into schools and nurseries and just test children and also provide support for adults so that under the umbrella of early intervention is really where we want to go to facilitate and for the outcomes and prevent any difficulties becoming entrenched.
[00:44:22] And you were saying that sometimes we may not even be aware that some of our devices that that we upgrade on a more regular basis, you know, we might have ones that could be particularly helpful. So there are a lot of ways to kind of reach out and maybe help and and get connected. So if there are anyone out there listening, you know, do you want to maybe provide us with a website for the university or your area?
[00:44:53] So the university's website is uhas.edu.gh. So UHAS is U-H-A-S, dot E-D-U dot G-H. So that's the university Web site. And you can just do a search for me, Sonia Aboagye and just reach out to me. But yeah, it's like how we change telephones in every couple of years or every year. If you have an iPhone literally there's an upgrade.
[00:45:35] And it doesn't mean that the previous version is, you know, obsolete. It just means that you can get, you know, new things, new tricks with with the latest version. And what we're saying is that we'd be really happy to have the old version, because they still do a lot for the people that we work with.
[00:46:02] Great. Thank you. And my last question for you is the question that I ask every guest, and it's what's turning you on this week? And it doesn't have to be anything technical. It can be a book or a food or a favorite designer or some people say a TV show. So, Sonia Aboagye, I want to ask you, what is turning you on this week?
[00:46:28] OK, so I've got two books. One is "The Courage to Be Disliked," which is by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga. And the other one is "The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down, which I mentioned earlier. Those are the two books, you know.
[00:46:50] And who is the author of "The Things?"
[00:46:55] Haemin Sunim. I'm sure that's not the correct pronunciation.
[00:47:02] S-U-N-I-M, in case anybody wants. That's awesome. Thank you.
[00:47:05] It's a Korean name.
[00:47:07] Perfect. Well that's all the time that we have, so Sonia this was just great. Thank you for sharing with us and thank you for zooming in all the way from Ghana. And it's just been absolutely a pleasure to talk to you. So I look forward to continue the conversation and even more to come. But thank you so much.
[00:47:28] Thank you so much for having me. Bye bye.
[00:47:33] Thanks so much for listening to the APEX Hour here on KSUU Thuder 91.1. You can find us again next Thursday at three p.m. for more conversations with the visiting guests at Southern Utah University and new music to discover for your next playlist. And in the meantime, we would love to see you at our events on campus. To find out more, check out suu.edu/apex. Until next week, this is Lynn Vartan saying goodbye from the APEX Hour here on Thunder 91.1.