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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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Ghana Part 1 — Cultural Exposure


March 26, 2019

Diversity Externships International

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Hello everybody! It feels weird blogging again because of the long hiatus but boy do I have things to share with you! As you probably have read about already, the second years were away on externships + spring break these past few weeks. While Jessica and Serena went to Australia, Melissa stayed local, I decided to go to Ghana.

I’m splitting this topic of externship into various posts because there are just so much that I want to highlight about this experience and I want to make sure to create the time and space that they deserve. To talk about my experience, I need to go a few years back to the beginning of it all . . .

Alumni and therapist, Bonnie Nakasuji has been coming to Ghana for two decades. In partnership with the Mephibosheth Training Center (MTC), a school and vocational training center for children with disabilities, Bonnie has garnered a close relationship to bring USC OT students. It was once a level 1 fieldwork opportunity now a leadership externship location.

So what was our purpose there? Firstly, Cultural Exposure.

Joyce in Ghana with one of the children at Mephibosheth Training Center

Bonnie as well as the other co-leading therapists, Jenna Kobara and Mariko Yamazaki, have taught us about the importance of sustainability and empowerment. We all have this righting reflex embedded within us, especially as future healthcare professionals, to fix things, whether that’s through offering advice or materials. Instead, the therapists encouraged us to be comfortable in the stillness of the uncomfortable. As Americans, regardless of whether we were Asian or Hispanic, etc. as Americans, we are all called “obrunis”, to which the term has evolved from meaning white person to a privileged, educated, rich person. It is our responsibility to acknowledge that privilege and the cultural differences when stepping into into another culture.

I strongly believe that short term trips like this are not served to drastically change a community, let alone a country’s way of life. Moreover, we as visitors are actually disruptive to this school’s daily routine. For two weeks, they had to accommodate the meals and living arrangement of a team of 40 Americans. I believe that this experience was meant for students to experience and become exposed to the different occupations in a different culture.

Bonnie gave a great example which made me reflect and think about how the things we do as Americans can make waves of effects that are often unseen. She told us how sometimes she feels uncomfortable bringing shoe donations to MTC. While it’s great that the students receive often new shoes to wear for free, we are disrupting the economic flow. Now these students and their families are not spending money at their local shoemakers and these shoemakers will feel the effects, challenging their ability to make money. In addition, how long can one pair of shoes sustain a child? It’s more powerful to work with individuals with what they have and where they are at, something that I have learned must be applied when working in a client-centered profession, meet your clients where they are at, not where you want them to be at!

When observing both the occupational therapists and physical therapists community consultations, I realized that they were very intentional in using assessments that could be understood regardless of culture and language barriers. They also provide education to the child, parent, caregiver, brother, sister, aunt, etc. so that this training and education can sustain the therapy even when they weren’t there.

In addition, I love how we as tourists were able to contribute to the economy. First, a sister of the principal of MTC, a seamstress came by MTC with her measuring tape and differently patterned fabrics. All students and therapists bought fabric and service in creating us individualized pieces. I was so excited for this part . . . to have a dress that will fit me all in the right places is something I have never experienced before!

Table full of colorful fabrics

Secondly, at the end of our externship, we went shopping at the local crafts village. I bought some cute earrings and leather sandals. It was also fun to participate in their cultural norm of bargaining to which Bonnie added, “It would be rude to not bargain!” I had so much fun conversing with store owners, asking them where they got/made the items, learning their language, and bargaining for a lower price. What an experience!!

Colorful sandals