UKZN students from left: Ms Kaylee Becker, Ms Noluthando Greaves, Ms Mbalenhle Masilo and Ms Minenhle Ngcongo

Occupational Therapy Students in the Thick of Things Helping the Needy

Four fourth-year Occupational Therapy students at UKZN are using lessons learned in the lecture room to assist underprivileged communities.

They are Ms Kaylee Becker, Ms Noluthando Greaves, Ms Mbalenhle Masilo and Ms Minenhle Ngcongo, who have collaborated with communities at grassroots level informing them about career choices and providing a variety of services.

The students have been working from their base at the Kenville Sea Cow Lake Community Clinic in Durban, which is surrounded by informal settlements – an eye-opening experience for them as they witness the harsh realities of life for many who live below the poverty line.

The youngsters are also providing occupational therapy services at the Denis Hurley Centre in Durban where the homeless and refugees are assisted. The student group helped with screening people visiting the centre and with individual treatment and health promotion generally.

Working in rotation as part of their studies, the team also visited informal crèches where they trained caregivers, established youth development programmes and started a community garden project to provide food security and to develop gardening skills.

‘It’s a part of our degree that we never expected and really sets the tone for our career, making us realise how dynamic it is,’ said Becker who has sourced support from local businesses in her own community of Montclair to assist the underprivileged.

Said Greaves: ‘During the past three years our practical training was mainly in hospitals but this year we were given the opportunity to work at a primary healthcare level within communities.

‘In all our projects, we try to get the community involved to see what difference we can make in their lives. For example, as part of our Kenville Inspirational Trade Experience (KITE) Project, we collect second hand clothes for unemployed community members who sell the clothing keeping 70% of the profits. We use this project to provide work skills training for the physically disabled.

‘It has also become a means to an income and helped them support their families. The initiative is about giving the less fortunate something which inspires them, broadens their horizons and changes their mind-set,’ said Greaves.

‘It’s the first time we have worked in an informal settlement and have discovered just how limited occupational choices and activities are for people there. For someone with a disability the position is exacerbated. In the final-year of our studies we’ve expanded beyond our medical focus to assist with the empowerment of people through activities and occupations,’ said Becker.

‘We has also been successful in developing natural artistic talent which allows for self-expression. We facilitated a mentorship programme involving a talented young person and a local artist from Montclair who gave advice on how to generate income from artwork.

‘Doing this work has really made us aware and to think twice about recommendations we make as occupational therapists. You experience the people’s way of life, getting close to them and the context of the challenges they face. You see the person rather than just a patient and want to build them up so that they can reach their full potential and have a fair chance at various opportunities. We want to work in these communities after our studies,’ she said.

Words: Nombuso Dlamini

Photograph: Supplied