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Occupational therapy students travel to Morocco

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Occupational therapy students travel to Morocco

Kristie Pino

Kristie Pino

Kristie Pino

Zachary Bednarczyk, Staff Writer

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It’s not every day that college students get to travel to two different continents and learn more about their major in exotic destinations abroad. That is exactly what a lucky group of occupational therapy students did during January 2018 break in a trip that was not affiliated with any college course.

Dodging the freezing temperatures of New England, 18 OT students along with OT professor, Dr. Said Nafai who is originally from Morocco, OT department director Dr. Joseph Pellerito, as well as the parent of one of the students, a medical doctor, all took a flight to Morocco to learn about the country, culture, and how occupational therapy has been affecting the country.

From January 2nd until January 13th, 2018, the trip was packed with activities where the goal was to learn, volunteer, and soak in the unique culture with a prominent culinary world ranking. The trip facilitated by Professor Mohamed Brahimi, a local political science professor, who has been hosting students on cultural exchange to Morocco for almost a decade.

Morocco is a country of many contrasts, rural and urban interspersed to create a diverse mix of cultures, races, and languages.

Students visited the capital Rabat, the popular Casablanca, and exotic city of Fes. Students visited the oldest university in the world, the famous Blue City of Chefchaouen, and Tangier, the gateway to Europe, Kenitra a beachside city, and other smaller towns along the way.

Even a side trip to Spain was part of the excursion, for more clinical experiences and to meet OT clinicians and students in Malaga, Spain. In Malaga, students volunteered in a 500-year-old nursing home. The students were very instrumental in helping Moroccans understand the usefulness of occupational therapy and how much it can improve their lives, all while growing their own cultural competence and clinical reasoning skills.

“I loved it,” said Anajali Schutt, a second-year Occupational Therapy student, “I thought it was very memorable and it’s something I will remember forever.”

Nisha Mahase, also a second-year Occupational Therapy student, raved about the local cuisine, “The food was delicious, there was a lot of bread, and a lot of food. All the meals were a full 3 courses.”

The trip was a hit with students, for second-year student Kara Woolridge, a side trip to Spain was her favorite part. “I would definitely go to Spain again and spend more time there, we didn’t explore Malaga University, and there was still a lot to explore,” she said.

The students took this journey to gain clinical experiences that they could not acquire in the US. Not to mention the rich cultural experiences that topped it all off. One aspect was to understand how occupational therapy was affecting the locals. One of the most impacting clinical visits was to the orphanages. These visits were marked by some strong emotions, tears, and hard to answer questions.

“My favorite part was playing soccer with the kids.” said Nisha after a visit to the orphanage in Kenitra, “We bought them soccer uniforms and we got to see the smiles on their faces and the enjoyment of the children and faculty was amazing.”

Visits to both the orphanage and nursing home were the highlight of the clinical part of the trip. Students were free to work with children and help out in the nursing home, all while having fun and using their clinical rationale with the professors’ oversight.

“It was amazing to see how the orphanage helped so many people from young school kids to the elderly. It was run by volunteers and donations and I feel spoke volume about the community,” Woolridge said.

In other parts of Morocco, students helped by also bringing gifts to places that needed new and safe toys for younger children, donating gently used clothes to shelters and other essentials. The group even dropped off an adapted tricycle for an 11-year-old boy to be able to safely transport his 7-year-old little sister who has a disability to her cerebral palsy clinic instead of carrying her to her therapy every day

Rehabilitation treatment is expensive and hard to come by in Morocco; there is a lack of health science programs like OT.  The group met with a steady stream of experts in the healthcare field, the first ever cohort of Moroccan OT students, and parent volunteers, all of whom were trying to help those in need. The OT students were invited to voice suggestions to local clinics based on their studies in occupational therapy and what may help benefit the Moroccan clinics in the long run.

“In Kenitra we got to take some kids down to the beach,” said Anjali. “It was the nicest day of the trip that we had and we got to ride camels with children with disabilities down the beach.”

Taking the children down to the beach was part of a clinical experience in Kenitra, where OT students donated toys and clothing to The Supporters of Lives, a non-profit organization that supports children with down syndrome to gain access to public events and places, integrate more in society, and help address their educational deficits.

Not only will the cultural tour stick with the students, but also the experiences through clinical activities. The students learned a lot about Morocco, their chosen field of OT study, but also about themselves in the emotional highs and lows that service learning brings one to experience. There were success stories of those who recovered and are recovering, but those stories that have not yet come to a happy ending left a mark on the students. Everywhere they went was a range of emotions and experiences to reinforce of the major and the choices they made by pursuing occupational therapy degrees at American Internal College.

Students on the trip not only had a better understanding of their choice of their academic major and how it applies to the real world, but they also got to see how it impacts different countries. Occupational Therapy is expanding because it can be applied nearly everywhere.

The trip to Morocco and Spain will forever leave an impact on these students.

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Occupational therapy students travel to Morocco