Queens’ OT Overseas

Keeping afloat while abroad

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Canadians abroad

I like that our community development project on Maternal-Child Health and Disability is made up of three Canadian women from different ethnic backgrounds - I think this sends a strong message about our project.

It’s interesting to see how most Bangladeshis react when we tell them that we‘re Canadian.  Typical interaction:

-Confused face/ double take

-A statement along the lines of “But you look Chinese …  And you look Bengali  … and you look like a  Canadian!” (to the team member of European-Canadian descent)

-If required, we’ll go into our backgrounds (I might explain that I was born in Canada but my parents are from South Africa, and of Indian descent) and also explain that Canada has extremely large immigrant populations

It’s not a problem (unless people try to speak to me in Bangla - I’m definitely at a remedial level and benefiting from my observation of speech therapy sessions for basic vocab :)  

But next time it happens, I’d like to bring up that authentic ‘native’ Canadians are First Nations :)

Happy Belated Canada Day!

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Amazing food here … most days a home-cooked meal of rice/roti + a curry.  Usually veggies like potatoes, pumpkin, okra but sometimes a bit of chicken or fish.  We also went to a fruit party and enjoyed ripe mangoes, bananas, pineapple, lychees, and some South Asian specialties like jackfruit (tastes like a pungent cross between a mango and banana) and jam (sour fruits that look like olives).  Whatever isn’t fresh from vendors or the market tends to be heavily processed + fake, like the cakey bread shown above.  

Definitely adding to this post later :)  

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Ideas surrounding disability in Bangladesh …

Before traveling to Bangladesh, I had a chance to speak with Canadian health care providers who had traveled and practiced here. Those discussions gave me the impression that most health and rehabilitation services in Bangladesh were predominantly based in medical and charitable models of disability. In the medical model, the idea is that disability is only caused by personal impairments or disease, and the charitable model works on the idea that persons with disability need “taking care of”.

We are indeed working and living in a large rehabilitation hospital with the following motto on the front entrance: “Service to sufferers is service to God.”

And Bangladeshi law has a definition of disability that’s quite different than the current conceptions of disability that we learned in our disability theory courses (i.e. the ICF). Here‘s the legal Bangladeshi definition:

"Disability" means any person who, is physically crippled either congenitally or as result of disease or being a victim of accident, or due to improper or maltreatment or for any other reasons became physically incapaciated or mentally imbalanced, and as a result of such crippledness or mental impairedness,- has become incapaciated, either partially or fully; and is unable to lead a normal life.

Wow. While the law and the motto painted above the front entrance seem stuck in medical and charitable models of disability, we’ve heard - and started to see - some very different ideas in practice. It would be completely wrong to suggest these are the only conceptions of disability that exist in Bangladesh. We’ve already had several animated discussions (over cups of unbelievably sweet black tea) regarding the work done by disability and health organizations in Bangladesh advocating for the full citizenship and rights of persons with disabilities. These discussions were more in line with a social model of disability, which takes into account physical, social, or economic environmental factors - things like the built physical environment, social and cultural attitudes, or disability pensions - and considers how these factors contribute to a person’s physical or mental impairments.

Our project certainly fits in more with this conception of disability, as maternal-child health is very much affected by social norms surrounding gender. One way this plays out in Bangladesh is low health service utilization. For example, there are very few female spinal cord injury patients in this hospital, even though we learned that many women have spinal cord injuries as a complication of tuberculosis. Our Bangladeshi project partners are passionate about shifting current practices to be more inclusive of women‘s health needs. We’ll be visiting the pediatrics wing of the hospital this week and it will be interesting to see how conceptions of disability play out with the families (mostly mothers and children) in that environment …

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Critters and Creatures of Bangladesh

  • Cockroaches in the kitchen… thankfully no longer
  • Worm in the toilet
  • Goats… everywhere
  • Whisper the equine therapy horse
  • Geese
  •  Cats… skinny little things that are just depressing to look at
  • Dogs… in the streets eating garbage and trying not to get run over by rickshaws
  • Cattle
  •  Snakes… including cobras… luckily only found in boxes so far
  • Mosquitos… sneaky little things that find a way under your netting and bite you in your sleep
  •  Birds… they just seam to squawk, no pretty noises from them so far
  • And some strange muskrat, squirrel, rodent like thing…

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A snake charmer in a village near Savar

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Nothing is impossible here, everything is possible in Bangladesh
Local hand therapist and amazing tour guide

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Settling in

It’s Day 2 of our 4-week placement here in Bangladesh. It took 2 flights, 4 airplane meals, 18 hours of flying…but we arrived safely AND with all our luggage! Score. To help truly capture our experience, let us just say that it is HOT here. And humid. All day. And night. Aside from that, things seem pretty cool (pun intended).

We had some basic details of what we were getting ourselves into, but we are feeling incredibly fortunate to have the level of local support here and to help fill in many of the blanks that we had prior to coming here. We’re still getting over a bit of jet lag but overall, we feel energized and are keeping pretty busy.

These past couple of days, we’ve had a tour of the grounds and facilities, brief introductory presentations, and meetings with key stakeholders (i.e. Principal of the school at the rehab hospital, course coordinators) to begin establishing relationships with respect to our project. We are introducing our two main themes:

  1. Interprofessionalism &
  2. Maternal and child health link with disability

It’ll be interesting to see how the scope of our project changes as we try to negotiate the different stakeholder perspectives over the upcoming weeks!

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Out of our depth?

Welcome! We are three Canadian student occupational therapists from Queen’s University.  We are about to embark on an international community development placement in Bangladesh.  Our plan is to design and implement interprofessional learning activities on maternal-child health for an audience of Bangladeshi student health professionals. 

In this blog, we hope to explore several themes related to global health, community-based rehabilitation, interprofessional practice, disability, and enabling occupation in a cultural context that’s new (to us:) 

We’ll also talk about being in a new country and somewhat out of our depth.  So cheers to swimming into uncharted waters! Maybe even literally  … this is how I’ve heard one Bangladeshi describe what happens when it rains:

“When it rains in Canada the water disappears in 5 minutes and when it rains in Bangladesh the road disappears in 5 minutes.”