The MCF Scholars Program at UoG celebrates another milestone in Occupational Therapy

In order to advance inclusive higher education for young people with disabilities, create new occupational therapy programs, and advance research for inclusive education and community-based rehabilitation in Africa, the University of Gondar in Ethiopia and Queen’s University in Canada have formed a 10-year partnership which is transforming the health landscape in the country. On July 16, 2022 the Mastercard Foundation Scholars program office at the University of Gondar organized a celebration event marking the start of its first ever batch of BSc Occupational Therapy students.

The event which took place at Roseau Hotel’s lavish cinema room showcased the determination and hard work that was years in the making. University higher officials, MCFSP office staff, deans and directors and the much-anticipated new batch of OT students were present to take part in the occasion.

Occupational Therapy is one of the fields which fall under the health care sector. It is the use of assessment and intervention to develop, recover, or maintain the meaningful activities, or occupations, of individuals, groups, or communities. Occupational Therapy is a rehabilitation science that is fairly new to the country of Ethiopia. Before 2020, there were only four certified occupational therapists in the entire country, and of those four, none had advanced degrees. But that has significantly changed thanks to the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program at UoG.

One of the best universities in the world, Queens University Canada, has been able to instruct and educate the university’s staff members for the past five years in the specialization of OT. And now for the first time, the University of Gondar has officially opened its first ever Occupational Therapy department with 4 well trained Msc holders who have studied abroad and came back to serve their university and country.

The OT BSc program, which has officially started, hosts 16 young and vibrant students who are ready to be pioneers in the field. When speaking about their expectations, they expressed their delight in being the first batch sharing that it comes with a lot of responsibility, but it will all be worth it once Ethiopians, who are in need of care, are presented with viable options for treatment. Others referenced the devastating effects of the war that had plagued the north and stressed the need to elevate the science more than ever.

The past year has seen war ravaged areas and individuals suffer heavy loses. One of the downfalls of war is death, but equally as devastating, large numbers of individuals become disabled because of constant fighting. This presents a ripe opportunity for these young individuals to leave their mark and serve their country in the greatest of moments. Dr. Meseret Kassie the Business and Development Vice President reiterated these claims and stressed, “OT can do this without a doubt.”

Dr. Molalign Belay, who is at the helm of the Scholars Program at UoG as the Co- Director, shared his excitement on the successful implementation of the OT Program and reiterated that the students have a big responsibility moving forward. “This celebration is great for the time being,” shared Dr. Molalign, “but the hard work is ahead of us, this Program rests on the shoulders of everyone who took part in its formation and above all the students must be ambassadors of OT to make our dreams a reality.”

The 4-year BSc degree has one year of common health science courses and two to four years of occupational therapy specific classes. It will be broken up into two styles of classes where one will be face to face lectures and the other clinical attachments in the field. But also, a things which is quite promising, professors from Queens University, Canada will take part in co-teaching methods as well where students will get the chance to learn from senior staff from abroad.

Dr. Asmamaw Atnafu, Academic Director of the College of Medicine and Health Sciences, shared that the specialization and the new department must go one step further to make a sizable impact in the lives of all Ethiopians. “We need to try our level best to make the University of Gondar a center for excellence in Occupational Therapy, and only then will our cause meet its true potential because other Universities will follow our lead and nationalize the field of study,” shared Dr. Asmamaw. In addition to this he also expressed the need to internationalize the program where able and competent occupational therapist will come to Ethiopia to serve in practical contexts for example at the University hospital and other clinics.

The field of occupational therapy is one of a kind and all those who were in attendance can attest to the importance it will have in the lives of millions. Once fully operation the science will be able to assist those who are affected and disabled by car accidents, chronic illness and war. When bringing up the top priority of the MCF office in this regard Mr. Eshetu Haile Selassie, who is Part B Manager, and who is in charge of the OT administrative matters of the office, shared that the enormous number of people with disabilities will no longer be overlooked hereafter because of the efforts and push of the OT Department, the Mastercard Foundation, Queens University and the University of Gondar.

With over 17 million individuals living with impairments in the country, the number of occupational therapists with degrees from highly regarded universities will surely increase dramatically in the years to come. Now as the nation’s first, the 16 students, who are now enrolled, took heed to the immense responsibility which is at hand and have started a journey which is unchartered in Ethiopia’s history, but which is filled with exciting and invaluable knowledge. After their subsequent graduation in 2026, moving forward, they will be the face of OT in Ethiopia and will continue to build its reputation and impact. The Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program at the University of Gondar, on its part, will continue to promote and develop the field to many more who are willing to serve their country in this most vibrant of ways. Notwithstanding, its determination and commitment to rehabilitation will continue as seen by its unwavering toil in opening this new program.