Occupational therapy isn’t about finding people jobs, but about helping people participate in anything that is meaningful to them. It fits into a variety of settings and looks different from place to place and person to person.
Malawi isn’t the “Africa” picture often painted in the West full of poor people living in huts. Yes there is great poverty, but there is also great wealth. There are homes that are huts and those that are accompanied by guest houses for visitors. Malawi is a diverse country where life looks different from place to place and person to person.
With such a variety within OT and Malawi, the mix—OT in Malawi—is just as much of a diverse experience. I can’t cover it all or really even come close but I can attest to the pieces I have seen.
It’s in a pediatric private practice where kids are treated in a clinic, as well as in private and public schools.
It’s in a government hospital and an inpatient rehabilitation center.
It’s financed by the profit of the organization, by the government, and by outside sources of aide.
It’s working alongside physiotherapists, speech therapists, learning support and rehabilitation technicians.
It’s an OT volunteering time in a village on a day off and another whose job is
building capacity for long term development.
It’s in a group of children who aren’t able to go to school, gathering for “their school.”
It’s in a group of men gathered to practice using their affected arms post-stroke.
It’s in a hospital where the needs are far more than the resources, but nevertheless needs are being met.
It’s one on one sessions in the clinic, one on 20 in a school, and one on many more in the hospital.
It’s provided to children with autism, down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and ADHD.
It’s games rigged for a win to build self-esteem and those rigged to be lost to practice social skills.
It’s chalk on the trampoline, paint on the wall, and handwriting in play-doh.
It’s vocational training to someone with a disability to give them an occupation and a livelihood.
It’s songs and games and crafts targeting joint engagement, auditory memory, attention, fine motor skills, and social participation.
It’s a pretend “lion hunt” through a jungle of tunnels and ball pits, and it’s parent education to provide strategies for home.
It’s adaptive equipment given to a mother who has walked two hours for a short treatment session.
It’s handwriting practice and a game of UNO played with a child dropped off by their driver.
It’s a group of therapists determined to develop the profession within the country, to start a program, and to meet the needs of the people.
It’s 9 therapists, both Malawians and expatriates, to 1.5 million people.
It’s a resilient profession that is growing and developing to help Malawians be all that they can and live the most meaningful lives possible.