Xavier Group Serves Guatemalan Orphanages

July 28, 2010

For the past three years, students in the department of Occupational Therapy at Xavier University in Cincinnati, OH, have traveled to Guatemala to participate in international academic service learning. OT majors at Xavier are required to complete 30 hours of service learning during the undergraduate portion of the 5.5 year program. Traditionally, this was accomplished in the Greater Cincinnati area, where students worked with and learned from individuals with traumatic brain injuries, mental illness, developmental disabilities, or school children from a local inner-city school. Lately, students have had the option to work with and learn from children who live in five Guatemalan orphanages, accompanied by faculty, practitioners, and colleagues of Xavier’s Department of Occupational Therapy.

Twenty-one people traveled to Guatemala from June 11-20. Nine students, eight practitioners, three faculty, and the Dean of Xavier’s College of Social Sciences, Health and Education participated. The students will follow up with more course-related activities this fall around servicing underprivileged populations. The practitioners donated their time and expertise.

The blog they wrote during the trip can be accessed at: http://www.xavierguatemala.blogspot.com

This year’s participants included:
Mabel Jansma of Chagrin Falls, OH
Kaitlin Culley of Westlake, OH
Katy Brown of Cincinnati
Danielle Braun of Cincinnati, who was on her second trip to Guatemala.
Krista Fennig of Cincinnati
Rachael Joy of Cincinnati
Melissa Heft of Versailles, OH
Holly Bartz of Indianapolis
Lauren Butscha of West Harrison, IN

Chris Bochenek –Hand Rehabilitation of Western Hills, Cincinnati, OH
Laura Cahill - Good Samaritan Hospital, Cincinnati, OH (Xavier program alumna)
Kelly Hibbard - Good Samaritan Hospital, Cincinnati, OH
Stephanie Johnson - Miami Valley Hospital, Dayton, OH
Kate Lopez - Mercy Franciscan Mt. Airy, Cincinnati, OH (Xavier program alumna on her second trip to Guatemala)
Meridith McLane - occupational therapist – The Treatment and Learning Center, Rockville, MD (Xavier program alumna)
Lisa Tucker - Riverside Hospital, Columbus, OH (Xavier program alumna)

Susan Israel –University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

Dr. Carol Scheerer, chair and associate professor of Occupational Therapy
Ms. Georganna Miller, academic fieldwork coordinator
Ms. Joan Tunningley, clinical faculty
Dr. Mark Meyers, dean of the College of Social Sciences, Health & Education

Dr. Mark Meyers, Dean of Xavier’s College of Social Sciences, Health, & Education, attended as part of the Ignatian Colleagues Program, a national program designed to educate and form administrators more deeply in the Jesuit tradition of higher education. Participants engage in an international immersion trip to a developing country. This helps administrators better articulate, adapt, and advance Ignatian mission on their campuses.

A Xavier alumna traveled to Guatemala a number of years ago with MOMS (Mothers on a Mission) and presented her experience at a state OT conference. Some Xavier OT students who heard her talk wanted the option of doing their service learning requirement there. So, Scheerer and the other faculty went on a MOMS trip and established this Xavier-only program. It has evolved each year.

The histories of some of the children are deplorable. One child was found in a trashcan and now lives at an orphanage. Another was left in a cellar for so long without food that he now obsesses over it. A child 2 hours old was found in the street, wrapped in a sheet. Many of the staff at these orphanages travel an hour and a half each day to get to work and then work second jobs after they leave. They do not receive much formal training but have deep compassion for the children in their care and appreciate any help and guidance provided.

In preparation, the students going to Guatemala took a specially-designed Spanish class tailored for them by Xavier professor Dr. Diane Ceo-DiFrancesco. It was half Spanish language and half Guatemalan culture and history. In this way, the students obtained prior learning about what they would see.

The group took 13 wheelchairs to Guatemala, put to urgent use by children in need of wheeled mobility, and repaired 40 additional chairs. The group worked directly with children and caregivers on individualized therapy programs. To carry on these programs, they trained numerous caregivers in techniques to facilitate the growth and development of the children. In addition, they took over 35 suitcases full of donated therapy supplies, clothes, water, milk, and drink supplements/ vitamins.

“Going to Guatemala shapes the students’ empathy,” Scheerer says, “so they develop a stronger voice to speak for those who have no voice and who have been pushed to the edges. They learn both broadly and deeply why these people have no voice.” She feels that traveling to Guatemala helps the students and practitioners become more aware of what is right here in our area. “From afar, it is easier to compare and contrast your everyday life with theirs and see the stark differences. Then when you come home, you see more easily that which has been in front of you all along.”

The trip for 2011 is already planned for June 11-19, 2011. To learn more about Xavier’s Occupational Therapy program, please log on to: www.xavier.edu/OT/ and to learn more about the Guatemala option go to: www.xavier.edu/ot/guatemala