OTGuatemalaThis past June, the six of us were fortunate enough to travel to Guatemala as a part of the service learning trip through Xavier’s Occupational Therapy Department.  The trip consisted of 18 students and 18 practitioners.   We stayed in the old capital of Guatemala, Antigua, while breaking into small groups and visiting multiple service sites throughout the week.  Each site boasted people of different ages and diagnoses, but the common denominator was to implement occupational therapy practices for the populations.  We hoped that our work at the service sites would promote occupational justice for each of the people and caregivers we worked with. We view occupational justice as the promotion and advocacy of meaningful activities and full participation based on each individual.

One specific site that Breanna visited was a Public Health Station in San Antonio.  Public health in Guatemala does not exist as it does here in the United States.  The building she worked at was the San Antonio municipal building which housed the mayor’s office and one small physical therapy room.  One particular story that stood out was the journey of a 20 year old man named Steve*.  He came into the clinic not knowing his own diagnosis, but looking for our help with regards to stretching his extremely tense muscles and giving recommendations so that he could perform activities of daily living independently.  As Breanna and the group continued to work with him they realized one of the main things they could help him with was dressing on his own.  The team of therapists worked collaboratively and created a masterpiece of a sock aid using some tools and the parts of a forearm crutch.  This new tool allowed Steve to take off and put on his own socks for the first time in his life.  As the student working alongside Steve, Breanna recalled the overwhelming feeling, witnessing the joy on his face and the tears in his mother’s eyes as she watched.  There were many tearful eyes and bright smiles around the room as the group cheered loudly and took pictures!

Steve’s story is just one glimpse into the work that we did while we were in Guatemala.  A meaningful occupation to him was being able to dress as independently as possible.  By working creatively to put together the sock aid they were able to help him accomplish this personal goal.  Through Xavier’s program Steve had access to therapy services and resources that may not have otherwise been available.  This is such a simple task for so many, but for him it was monumental. Steve no longer has to rely on his mother or other family members to put on his socks.  His new found confidence in his abilities will hopefully push him to achieve many other goals.  In Guatemala, there is no legislation to protect those with disabilities.  In addition to providing occupational therapy services, our trip advocated for people such as Steve, whose voices aren’t heard.

Feel free to read more about our experiences and many other stories like this from our trip at http://www.xavierguatemala.blogspot.com/

*Names have been changed for privacy.

AuthorsThe six of us,  Megan O’Malley, Breanna Lynch, Emily Riepenhoff, Brittany Schmidt, Jessica Handwerk, and Alyssa Mikuk are senior occupational therapy students. A requirement for our major is to complete a service learning project. We decided to complete our project in Guatemala this past summer, where we were accompanied by 12 other students and 18 practitioners.

Above left to right: Megan O’Malley, Breanna Lynch, Emily Riepenhoff, Brittany Schmidt, Jessica Hanwerk, Alyssa Mikut