The following is a guest post by one of our student communication ambassadors and soon-to-be graduate, Ilan Mester (OT’17).
Occupational Therapy knows no boundaries and eight student OTs are proving that. Thanks to the Queen Elizabeth II (QEII) Scholarship in International Community Based Rehabilitation, these second-year students are now completing their final placement and a community development project in India and Tanzania.
The project is an initiative from the International Centre for the Advancement of Community-Based Rehabilitation (ICACBR) at Queen’s. With the help of the QEII scholarship, the eight students have been awarded financial support to travel to these developing countries and work with underserved communities.
Emily Brennan is one of four OT students who headed to Tamil Nadu, India, to work at Amar Seva Sangam (ASSA). “It’s a rehabilitation and development centre in rural India that offers services to people with disabilities,” she explains. “It also has an early intervention centre for children with disabilities and community-based rehab.”
Brennan – who’s joined by Chloé Houlton, Jasmine Montagnese and Janet Breimer – says the group of students are being supervised by OTs and physiotherapists from both Canada and India. “Our community development project involves creating a manual for parents of children with cerebral palsy and a manual for the community rehab workers that collaborate with those individuals,” she adds. “Our clinical placements are in adult spinal cord injury rehab, children with developmental and intellectual disabilities and/or village-based rehabilitation.”
According to Brennan, the unique learning opportunity was a major draw for her. “I know that I learn best when I’m immersed in something and I learn the most when I’m pushed outside of my comfort zone. I’ve never been much of a traveler and haven’t been to a developing country, so I wanted to experience something I hadn’t done before. I thought, ‘What better way than to complete one of my placements abroad?’”
Alisha Anderson, who is in Tanzania with three other OT students, shares similar thoughts. “I was very interested in an international placement to experience another culture and way of doing things, increase my knowledge of treatment plans with limited resources and cultural competence, as well as build collaborative, international working relationships with colleagues and clients.”
Anderson and her classmates (Samantha Coulter, Molly Flindall-Hanna and Lyssa Keil) are working at Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre for two months. They are spending the third month engaged in a community development project at the Pamoja Tunaweza Boys and Girls Club in Moshi, Tanzania. “We’ll be working with male street-connected youth between the ages of 16 and 21 and the youth leaders to develop business skills and confidence to sell their products such as paintings and jewelry that they make at the club.”
In fact, Anderson identifies the community development aspect as one of the components she’s looking forward to the most. “The project is very self-sustainable as it’s the locals who run the programs,” she explains. “Much of what we learned in our community development class will be applicable to this project, which will be a great opportunity to see it in place in another country. I’m excited to be a part of the community, to learn from the youth, and experience their culture.”
Both Brennan and Anderson know their international placements will come with a fair share of challenges. “The language barrier will definitely be challenging,” Brennan admits. “The language spoken in our region is Tamil. Fortunately, there’s an onsite translator that will be able to help, but they won’t always be available so we’ll have to familiarize ourselves with it before we leave.”
Anderson adds: “I’m nervous as to what I’ll see at my placement sites. Poverty is prevalent in the population I’ll be working with, so I’m preparing myself that I may witness and hear some heartbreaking stories.”
Challenges aside, the eight students are beyond grateful for this unique opportunity. “I’m a big believer in lifelong learning and self-growth, so I’m excited to learn a lot about myself as a person and a future clinician,” says Brennan. “It will be really cool to use this experience to help shape how I want to practice as an OT and how I want to live my everyday life. I’m really excited to learn about a new country, culture and practice setting and can’t wait to bring all the new knowledge and experience back with me!”