International Therapy Service

Posted on September 13th, 2013 by Denise | No Comments

International Therapy Experience

By

Denise Koonce OTR

I remember, shortly after completing OT school, reading an article about an OT’s volunteer work in a Romanian orphanage.  Romania during the 1980’s had over 600,000 children in orphanages because of the government’s strict policies that did not allow families to use contraception or women to have an abortion.  Families could not care for the additional children and would leave healthy newborns at the orphanage.  Unfortunately, because of the lack of resources to care for the high number of babies and children, the environment of the orphanages became horrific.  I tried very hard to connect with the OT, of whom the article was about, but once I connected with her the situation in Romania had changed, as had Romanian policies, and assisting in the orphanages had become challenging.  The situation left an indelible mark in my memory, as well as my heart, and the article about the OT’s experience was so moving that I have continued to desire the opportunity to participate on an international level.  A few years later, another situation arose and I attempted to work abroad when my husband traveled to Italy for culinary school.  I wanted to tag along but, even with my best efforts, an opportunity did not present itself.  Occupational therapy was not taught or recognized by the healthcare system in Italy, at that time, so options were very limited.  Despite the fact that I have been unable to participate on an international level has not lessened my beliefs in the benefits of international service or my desire.  I believe being able to provide worthwhile effective information, with or without hands on intervention, to other interested individuals in another country is extremely rewarding.  While the individuals in the country you are visiting gain valuable knowledge that can be applied, you gain a cultural experience which will forever impact the way you view life, as you know it, in the future.  I am pleased to say that since the time of the Romanian article, over 18 years ago; international therapy service has changed immensely.  Now there are numerous avenues offering you an opportunity to become involved in international therapy services.  There are a multitude of organizations with varying focuses and goals.  We also have universities that have set up international fieldwork sites for their students.  If you are interested in international services, whether you are a therapy student or a practicing therapist, there is an organization out there that matches your interest and goals. 

Knowing there are opportunities in multiple countries across the globe, where do you access these organizations or where do you begin?  Here are only some resources you can research and obtain information:

  • American Physical therapy Association (APTA) and American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) both have numerous organizations listed on their websites. www.apta.org/ProBono/International/ , www.asha.org/members/international/IntNonProfRes.htm ,
  • The World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT) ( www.wfot.org ) WFOT is the international OT organization and has student fieldwork and professional volunteer opportunities listed.  
  • United Nations Development Program (UNDP) (www.un.org ) The United Nations has an immense amount of information on their website.  The best way to find volunteer opportunities is to use their internal site search and then narrow your search to your interests.  
  • World Vision International ( www.wvi.org/wvi/wviweb.nsf )  World Vision is a Christian organization working with children, families, and communities around the world providing short-term emergency relief from natural disaster and long-term sustainable community development. 
  • People to People Ambassador Program (www.peopletopeolple.org ) and International program (www.ptpi.org ) People to People was founded by President Dwight D Eisenhower in 1956 to promote international understanding and friendship through educational, cultural and humanitarian activities.

Using your skills as a therapist by providing new insights, techniques, direction, problem solving, and sometimes just genuine care, on an international volunteer basis, is enormously valuable to those receiving the services and rewarding to you as an individual.  If you have volunteered as a therapist on an international level, please share with us the organization’s name you were involved with and the highlights of your experience.

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