From Gondar to Capetown: Understanding the scope and development of Occupational Therapy in African contexts

According to the World Federation of Occupational Therapists, Occupational therapy is a client-centered health profession concerned with promoting health and well-being through occupation. The primary goal of occupational therapy is to enable people to participate in the activities of everyday life.

The Mastercard Foundation Scholars project team from Queen’s University and the University of Gondar have gained some insight of Occupational Therapy in an African context. Solomon Fasika (Mastercard Foundation Part B Co-Manager, Physiotherapist and University of Gondar lecturer), Anushka Joseph (Mastercard Foundation Part B Co-Manager and Occupational Therapist) and Jasmine Montagnese (Mastercard Foundation Occupational Therapy Program Coordinator) travelled to South Africa to attend the World Federation of Occupational Therapists conference.

The trip included a tour of the skills lab at University of Cape Town, which allowed the team members to view a lab in an African context including the materials and techniques used. Skills labs are vital parts of the education of student occupational therapists as it provides a space for students to learn practical skills. As such, a full functioning and contextually relevant skills lab will be essential for the new undergraduate occupational therapy program beginning at the University of Gondar in 2022. When visiting the facility at Old Groote Schuur Hospital, in University of Cape Town’s campus one thing became certain and that is that Ethiopia could have one just like it!

The lab in Old Groote Schuur Hospital at the University of Cape Town is shared with all Rehabilitation Sciences students (e.g. Occupational Therapy, Physiotherapy, Speech Language Pathology) and the lab coordinator schedules and books the lab as required by classes and students. According to Solomon Fasika, “Venues are used for teaching clinical skills. Some venues are equipped with cameras that capture real-time demonstrations of instructors and the video feed is then projected onto a screen where all students can observe throughout the classroom.” The video feature is usually used when demonstrating skills with small objects or with the hands where the focus may be on fine motor skills for example.

The Mastercard Foundation team members are grateful for the opportunity to have toured the lab, as it helps with the planning and development of a similar lab at the University of Gondar. The lab along with all the other components of planning the program will help to build a strong occupational therapy program to enhance the existing rehabilitation program and supports at the University of Gondar.

“We plan to open our skills lab in conjunction with the start of the program at the University of Gondar and so it will be fully functional by 2022” said Jasmine with optimism. At the World Federation of Occupational Therapists Congress, in South Africa team members were able to seek vendors who sold important equipment, tools, instruments and materials that are essential for any skill lab. Jasmine hopes that with the mind set of sustainability the project could arrange partnerships that could supply the future skills lab. To take it one step further, the team also found a location at the college of medicine and health sciences at the University of Gondar where they hope the future lab will be.

Occupational Therapy will bring new skills and expertise to this East African Country. In the near future, once the first cohort of Master’s trained Occupational Therapy UoG faculty return from Queens University, they will be pioneers in opening Ethiopia’s first Occupational Therapy department. The ground work that is being laid today will make all the difference. Faculty from the University of Gondar have arrived in Kingston, Ontario, Canada on 1 May 2018, with the planned start in September 2018 to begin their Occupational Therapy educational journey. They will return to Ethiopia in two years’ time with abundant knowledge and experience to teach the future occupational therapists of Ethiopia!

Samuel Malede| Communications and Learning Coordinator, Scholars Program