I became interested in Occupational Therapy in 1999, when I was participating in the International Partnership for Service-Learning (IPSL) program in Guadalajara Mexico. In the mornings I attended classes at the Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara, and in the afternoons I worked with at Centro Integral Comunitario, a health clinic and community center serving Santa Rosa residents.
During my first week, the doctors at Centro Integral introduced me to Gabriel, a 23-year-old man who had been shot, and became paraplegic at the age of 16. They wanted Gabriel to learn how to read and write, in the hopes that this could help him with future job opportunities. Gabriel, like 80% of the adults in the Santa Rosa community, quit school in order to work at an early age, and was illiterate.
I began working with Gabriel, slowly helping him to learn letters, then consonant combinations, and then words. Gabriel spent everyday in his bed, rarely going into the other rooms in his family's house, and almost never going outside. He suffered from depression and isolation, and he was in pain from chronic bed sores and general physical deconditioning. When I asked health professionals about his disability and what he could be capable of, I got a range of answers that left me confused, and desiring more information to understand about his condition. As our friendship grew, Gabriel became more willing to leave his room and participate at the community center.
In August of 2000, Gabriel and I were invited to participate in Camp El Convite, a camp for people with disabilities in Oaxaca, Mexico. This was a life-changing event for both of us. Camp consisted of people with a variety of disabilities from the United States and Oaxaca and the counselors who, besides attending to the needs that campers could not fulfill themselves, made sure that there were no obstacles to what the campers could achieve and experience. This included carrying people who were usually in wheelchairs up to the top of a pyramid, going out dancing at a disco, and having an epic scavenger hunt (which Team Gabriel won!)
Gabriel and I were surrounded by people who showed him the friendship, care and appreciation that had been lacking in his adult life. In a interview in the local paper Gabriel said that this was the first time in his life that he felt so loved. When I returned to the United States I shared Gabriel's story in video for IPSL shown below.
As for me, I didn't want camp to end. My eyes were opened to the possibilities of what life could be like for people who had disabilities if they were given opportunities to fully participate in their life and communities.
Like a lot of people, I didn't know what occupational therapy was, but I was looking to find a profession that appealed to my highest ideals of participation, fairness and self-growth for all people. For the past several years, I have worked with children and adults to address their ability to access opportunities to participate more fully in their lives regardless of disability or other barriers they face. I continue to work with Pacific University's School of Occupational Therapy to provide educational opportunities as a fieldwork supervisor for students going into the occupational therapy profession.
I formed Equip To Heal to address an issue I kept running into: people returning home after hospitalization without the knowledge of how to function and heal within the realities of their home environment.
As a client, you are the expert on your life, and your needs for your day-to-day living. Together, we can work to help you manage your needs and find the ways in which you can be independent or better supported. Then, you can focus on the important task of living the life that you want.