Nine weeks ago, I started my second placement with a Plymouth based charity called START (Students and Refugees Together). Nine weeks later, I am speechless as to how much I have changed. Truth be told, I did not have the best start to this placement. I was anxious as to whether START would be able provide me with the opportunity to develop the skills as a competent occupational therapist. Thankfully, my anxiety was unfounded.
Throughout this placement, I got to be involved with the following:
- the ‘Allotment’ projects, where users can engage with nature.
- the ‘Job Club’, which helps refugees with job applications.
- the ‘Drop In’ sessions, which help the service users with anything they need.
My favourite had to be the ‘Cultural Kitchen’. We cooked and shared a meal with over a hundred people from diverse backgrounds. I loved seeing the smiles on the faces of our service users’; the Cultural Kitchen is an excellent opportunity to bring the whole community together.
Just two weeks into my placement, I was given my own caseloads to manage. This made me feel both excited and anxious because of the responsibility. So, I was very pleased to see the differences that we were able to make with one of my service users, Adam (in order to protect his identity, Adam is not this service user’s real name).
When I first met Adam, he had just moved into a new flat after being homeless and sleeping on his friends’ sofa just to get by. The concern was regarding his ability to adjust to his new environment and manage the additional responsibilities, such as sourcing the household goods for an empty flat and budgeting for rent, bills and food. My placement educator was brilliant in helping me to identify the type of interventions that Adam needed, as well as what was realistic for me to achieve with Adam during my nine week placement.
After some careful planning and decisive actions from START, Adam was able to feel comfortable and began to settle in to his new home. On my last home visit, Adam even made me a hot drink as the host. To most people this might just be a small act of kindness but to Adam, who was homeless until nine weeks before, it was a milestone of achievement as it signaled a new beginning of his life. It made me feel very proud to have been able to work with START, supporting Adam to reach this milestone.
My views of the world and occupational justice have been shaped by what I have seen and experienced on placement. START taught me how to be an advocate for those in need, to challenge imperfect and unjust systems, to protect the innocent, and to connect with another human beings beyond language barriers and cultural differences. Most importantly, I have learnt that ‘taking a step back’ to reflect on how I approach different situations can really make a massive difference to the relationship between me and the people I am trying to help. No matter where I might end up working in the future, this experience has provided me with a set of unique skills which are hugely valuable and transferable.
Thank you to START for everything, because you have helped me to find my voice and develop a deep insight into what kind of an occupational therapist I want to become. I have come to realise that making a difference is not simply changing someone’s circumstances, it is also about giving hope to the people in need. We may never be able to change the history of our service users’, but we can all be a part of their journey in adjusting life to new surroundings with faith and aspirations.
“Occupational therapists know that hope still glimmers in the darkest hour…” – Unknown