What to do now? by Nava

After the experiences had in Ghana, it was hard to just leave and move on to the rest of summer. In the Accra airport I shared these feelings with Lily when realized we felt the same way, we figured we should work together and do something. We wanted this ‘something’ to follow-up but our experiences at study abroad students and as OT student trying to deliver services in a rural area. We spoke to our professors and decided to gather a few ideas that we could put forth as poster proposals for the National AOTA (American Occupational Therapy Association) conference next spring. With the due date two weeks away, we brainstormed a list and rounded it down to two topics we feel we can present information on that might interest the AOTA crowd. We will not know if either topic has been accepted until sometime in September but I thought I’d write about them anyway as the process of submitting these proposals has helped me process a lot of what we did and saw over the course of our trip prep and travel. The concepts we submitted are:

1: Compare participant and leader pre-departure goals with post-trip feelings of what was gained from the experience in both Accra and Hohoe through a simple survey of trip participants and by examining blogs.

2: Investigate the issues faced in delivering OT services and carrying out projects in the rural setting. Explore what we understand of why these issues occurred, and possible solutions for future trips. (language/cultural differences, available resources, time, relationships, etc.)

Through the first topic, we hope to look into the different experiences had by each group to compare and contrast the outcomes and how each group feels their experience aligned with the goals of the trip as set out by the course syllabus. When we were all together for our last few days in Accra, it was clear that there were significant differences between the type of work done by each group. The Accra team completed very OT related tasks by working with students and teachers on things like positioning and wheelchair repairs in a school specifically for children with disabilities. They also completed a significant amount of Denver screenings at a school for typically developed children and helped write-up reports for those they had some concerns about. This experience (we expect) was likely very affirming for them in their choice of career and was a great experience for them to put to use the skills they’d learned in the classroom. For those of us in Volta, our time was primarily spent with children from the orphanage. While many of these children may have some psychological trauma in their pasts that contribute to behavioural or emotional concerns, with only two weeks in country, we were not able to focus on those areas. Our time was spent learning and absorbing the culture of rural Ghana life and its challenges. We developed relationships and asked many questions about what and how one could be an effective OT in this setting. From the survey results, we do know that participating in this trip was valuable for all members. We hope to find out more about which aspects were most valuable and most challenging and how they compare to the expectations of our professors to help provide insight for future OT study abroad trips.

Our second prompt touches on a topic that I’ve thought a lot about since our trip. There are many arguments for and against NGOs and ‘outsiders’ providing aid to developing nations. Regardless of what side you find yourself on, many practitioners are doing it. Just like we did, they choose to travel overseas, usually for a short period of time with the goal of delivering services and making a difference. Just as we did, many of them likely experience significant unanticipated  barriers to being able to provide the kind of care they imagined. When looking through literature to prepare this proposal, Lily and I found many articles regarding the systemic and structural barriers for delivering services in rural areas such as limitations to government funding and small numbers of practitioners, but nothing that touched on the face-to-face part of delivery. That’s kind of a lie. We found one article that touched on some of the language and religious concerns and got really excited and then realized it was by Stacey (our trip leader). But still, none of these articles proposed any suggestions for mitigating these barriers when in country or ways to prepare. This is likely because there is obviously no one-size-fits-all solution and the collection of formal research in this small area is likely difficult to acquire funding for. In this poster, Lily and I would like to share the knowledge we acquired through conversations with the Ghanaians we met, the reflections of our trip-mates, and consultation of literature across medical literature. We want to provide suggestions and ideas that we wish we had prior to our departure and hopefully help those interested in participating in this realm of OT seriously consider what they can do to prepare for such an experience.

As I said above, we wont know if we will actually have the opportunity to present either of these till September but regardless, the opportunity to go through the process of submitting was an interesting learning experience that will hopefully come in handy in again in the future.

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