Seizing the Opportunity: A Placement in India

Brittany Myhre (left) with her supervisor, Harsha Babani, and others after a training seminar in Amar Seva Sangam, in Tamil Nadu, India.

As part of the Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy, each student is required to complete 4 clinical placements to gain clinical experience, and put our classroom knowledge into practical application.  When the opportunity to apply for an international placement came up, I seized it and  was fortunate to be granted a chance to participate in an 8-week stage in Tamil Nadu, India.

The host organization, Amar Seva Sangam (ASSA) is located in a very rural portion of Southern India and is a non-profit organization, serving children in its early intervention school, a special school for children with learning, intellectual or physical disabilities, an in-patient spinal cord rehabilitation unit, vocational training, in addition to an integrated school system, where children from the community can also attend. Most of the services are offered free of charge, which allows the families living within the surrounding communities to attend to their children’s needs without concern to their already often precarious financial situations.   

I was nervous about how I would adapt to a setting that is low-resourced by Canadian standards, and ensuring that I would be culturally humble and sensitive to the needs of those I was working with. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in what “should” be, rather than what the situation or individual may desire or need. I was put to ease the first day after a conversation with my supervisor and my fellow students over differences in terminology; it was refreshing and challenging for me to address my own assumptions and I believe that helped set the trend for the rest of our stage.

I worked in the early intervention program with young children and traveled  into the surrounding rural villages to work with families who were unable to travel to the ASSA centre. I worked along side the Village-Based Rehabilitation Initiative workers (VBRI staff), a group of extremely intelligent and strong women, often who were special educators. These women visited the children each week and were invaluable to providing insights to the children’s condition and development, family dynamics and needs, and translation services. The families we visited were often living in extreme poverty and unable to afford the bus fare, and their children were sometimes too fragile to navigate public transit. Being confronted with an entirely different way of being was humbling, to say the least.

To ensure that our interventions were sustainable, a large point of reflection prior to, throughout and after my stage, ASSA and the head of VBRI engaged myself and my supervisor to train the VBRI staff to administer the Canadian Occupational Performance Measure (COPM), as a way of setting family goals and monitoring their child’s performance and their own satisfaction with the child’s progress.

It was inspiring to see how a measure we used in our first week of the program and endlessly throughout our classroom courses, could be applied in such a variety of contexts. Despite challenges of language and cultural practices, families were able to set goals for their children and it proved to be a success! Knowing that the COPM will be applied to ensure treatments are family focused and can be a self-sustaining initiative was so rewarding for us all.

My time in India was challenging, rewarding, heart-breaking and inspiring; everything and more than I could have imagined. I feel so honored to be a part of the projects, and realize that my privilege as a Western master’s student (among other privileges afforded to me) played a heavy role in my experience to go to India in the first place. I hope to honor the families, staff and those we met in passing by taking the lessons and growth I had during my time at ASSA and applying them to my future practice and life. I can’t wait to see what the future brings!

Brittany Myhre
Occupational Therapy Master’s Student





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