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University of Southern California
University of Southern California
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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News and Events
News and Events

Art for refugees
January 22, 2020


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Chelsea Rivera MA ’19, OTD ’20

Chelsea Rivera MA ’19, OTD ’20 (photo provided courtesy of Chelsea Rivera)

Chelsea Rivera ’19, OTD ’20

New Orleans, Louisiana

Residency site
Art for Refugees in Transition (A.R.T.)
Cartagena, Colombia

Why did you decide to pursue your OTD?
I’ve always wanted to teach at a university level and publish academically, and the OTD was one way to make that a reality. Recently I’ve become interested in the intersection of occupational therapy, human rights, and policy work, and I knew that the OTD could give me the opportunity to dive deeper into this emerging practice area and carve a path for the profession in this realm.

How did you get into your residency?
After an eye-opening trip to Cartagena where I witnessed first-hand the severity of the Venezuelan refugee crisis, I began researching OTs working with refugee populations, and the people doing this work are sparse! I’d discussed my interests with some of the OTs at Rancho, and they suggested that I speak with the head of the OT department because she’d attended the WFOT conference and had a lot of resources regarding non-traditional/emerging OT work. I emailed every single presenter who was remotely involved with refugee/displacement work. A scant handful got back to me, and no one seemed interested in having an occupational therapy resident. I was feeling pretty defeated. One night I decided to Google “art and refugees” in a last attempt to combine my passion for art, social justice and occupational therapy into a coherent OTD residency. An organization called Art for Refugees in Transition was the first hit! I clicked through and saw that they’d done work in Bogota, so I emailed the founder about the possibility of starting a program in Cartagena. She emailed me back within 48 hours and told me that the organization was launching a new program in Cartagena in October! We spoke on the next day, and I realized she was based in New York. I’d had a trip planned to New York the next week, so we agreed to meet. I met Sara (the program director) in New York, I thought she was awesome, she thought I was pretty awesome as well, and we agreed we’d work together. It’s amazing how it all lined up so perfectly; I know in my bones that this is where I need to be.