As Occupational Therapy Masters students, we are required to complete 4 placements in a clinical setting, so when the opportunity to do one internationally arose, I couldn’t say no! Rural South India was a land as foreign to us as we imagined OT might be to it. To our amazement, in the little village with its limited resources and proportionally large population, an inspiring rehabilitation facility, spanning acres of land, had made its place. Amar Seva Sangam (ASSA), a non-profit organization catering to a lifespan of people with disabilities, with its early intervention center, special school, vocational training workshop and extensive spinal cord injury rehabilitation program, offered free services to its population.
Naturally, I worried about our interventions being culturally sensitive and our abilities matching the needs of the population, but I soon realized that the resemblances in the problems we faced, far exceeded the differences. Yes, the setting had fewer material resources than an equivalent center in Canada, but the lack of human resources was an issue that sounded all too familiar!
In our OCC1-617 class, we learned that very few OTs in Quebec practice in school-based settings. Often, a single OT is assigned to an entire school board, resulting in an area of great needs and no service providers. The same challenge presented itself at ASSA: the entire center relied on the services of a single part-time OT. Working at ASSA’s Special School, and quickly became aware that the needs exceeded what I could provide in my 2 month stage, but I wanted to make meaningful change.
In the same course, we were also taught the Partnering for Change model. Though it was developed in Ontario, it was created to tackle the same issue I now faced across the world. Clearly, the model’s relevance was not limited to Canada!
The model’s key concepts of collaboration, coaching and partnership, allowed me to provide OT interventions that reached beyond specific students and addressed the larger school context. I saw my clients, the students and the teachers, on a daily basis. I asked to invite the parents at the school multiple times to get their expert input and get them involved. I had “mini-meetings” with groups of teachers to exchange ideas extending beyond my clients to all the students in the school. We discussed classroom adaptations, adjusting teaching materials, managing schedules to ensure all students are alert during activities, and shared ways to ensure positive interaction and learning.
By working with parents and teachers collectively, I know I accomplished more than I would have on my own. The relationship established between all of us was the key to enabling effective change in the students’ lives. This experience allowed me to appreciate the applicability of the Partnering for Change model in all school settings, and its ability to address a problem faced by school-based OTs, not only in Canada or Quebec, but rather, by OTs internationally. In India, despite the language barrier and the cultural differences, this model provided a platform for knowledge translation and effective exchange between professionals, and I am excited to see what changes it brings to school-based OT in Canada when I begin my clinical practice!
By Sitara Khan
OT Masters Student