Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are entirely our own and not necessarily those of our employer or any other occupational therapist.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Reflections on Romania

Myself and a colleague, Heather, recently had the opportunity to visit an Art Therapy Centre in Timisoara, Western Romania, to see the work that was done there by the Art, Music and Puppet Therapists. The centre is based within a state run orphanage and works with children who are resident there as well as children from a local school for the deaf, children with autism and children from divorced parents! The request from the Centre and Muzika ,(the music charity who had set up the initial links between the University and the Art Therapy Centre) was for students to do a ‘train the trainers’ package for professionals and carers working with children within or near to Timisoara. Heather and I were very much an advanced party to assess the feasibility of future visits. Prior to our visit we had spoken to others who had been to Romania and overall, reports were not particularly positive and Heather and I prepared ourselves for an emotionally challenging visit.
The visit itself went better than certainly I had anticipated; I personally had visions of meeting traumatised or neglected children that I would desperately want to pack in my suitcase and bring home! Fortunately for my husband and the children we met that wasn't the case and Heather and I were pleasantly surprised with the happy, welcoming children that we had the honour of meeting and observing during our time there. The Art Therapy Centre consists of essentially two large (ish) rooms and we observed several sessions within the centre and one in a private nursery where we saw the children engaging in Art and Music therapy and being shown or acting out well known stories such as The Three Little Pigs, Hansel and Gretel and the Giant Radish (like our giant turnip story!)

I think what both I and Heather were surprised to find is that, unintentionally, the philosophy and work of the staff in the centre very much echoes that of our OT principles and therefore it was hard to see what we could add to this. The visit threw up several more questions for us such as what are the orphanages actually like and what is the philosophy behind the care the orphans receive? Interestingly some of the children aren't actually orphans but, due to Romania not having a benefits system, several families can't afford to feed the children or look after them whilst they go to work, so the children stay in the orphanage during the week and go home at the weekends. I was also surprised to learn that the majority of the orphans only stay in the orphanage for 3-4 months before they then go on to foster families who are paid to look after them as they are here in the UK.

We were also told about the centres for the disabled, one of which is apparently very near to the Art Therapy Centre but we didn't have the opportunity to visit, and where apparently they look after much more profoundly disabled children than the ones we saw. Heather and I both felt that these are centres that we would like to visit and observe before being able to offer any training as, from our observations in the centre, I would certainly be concerned that we would be trying to 'teach' them something that they are already know and are doing.

It is with much regret that on reflection following the visit we have come to the conclusion that it would not viable for us to visit the centre again this June. The timing of June is not good as the schools in Romania are on holiday for the whole of June, July and August and most people take their holidays in June. Unfortunately our students will still be on placement during this time. I also do feel strongly that more observational visits need to happen in various settings before we could deliver a purposeful and meaningful (forever the OT!) package of training. I am concerned that without these visits we could make too many wrongful assumptions about the care that is already being provided which I, personally, feel would be unprofessional. Further visits would also enable the future of this project to be planned properly and have a clear aim of what the purposes of the visits are for the Centre, the students and the University.

Overall Heather and I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to visit another country to see the work of others trying to improve the quality of life for so many children. What struck us most was not really the differences but the many similarities between our situations and feel that further visits would improve our ways of knowing and doing as much as theirs.

No comments: