Occupational Therapy Students Serve as Profession Ambassadors in Morocco

Fifteen occupational therapy graduate students traveled last month to Morocco for the inaugural OT Student Ambassador Experience at Jefferson (Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University). During the 11-day trip, the students served as representatives of the profession, as the North African nation currently does not have a native occupational therapy workforce, and learned how their services can be provided outside the context of their U.S. experience.

Occupational therapy student Katie Ramin teaches a child to use a fidget spinner in Kenitra.

The group, including five third-year and 10 second-year students from the East Falls campus, worked with people in a variety of settings throughout the country. They visited a nursing home and a community center for children with disabilities in Kenitra; a neuro-rehabilitation clinic in Marrakech; a vocational training facility in the capital of Rabat for people with developmental disabilities; and the home of a stroke patient to deliver a hemi-walker and train him and his family on its use.

“It was the first time in years he was able to kiss his granddaughter while standing,” said Monique Chabot, assistant professor of occupational therapy, who lead the trip in conjunction with the nonprofit organization Glocal Impacts.

Student Lynn Nemeth at a restaurant run by the vocational school in Rabat.

While in Morocco, the students also had the opportunity to embrace the local culture, including surfing lessons and camel rides on the beach in Essaouira, visiting the world’s third-largest mosque in Casablanca, taking in musical performances in Marrakech and participating in a henna party in traditional Moroccan dresses in Fes.

“The entire experience was an incredible opportunity to share our knowledge and skills with people who would not have ready access to this information,” Chabot said. “People were extremely grateful for what we had to offer. I also feel the interactions with the locals gave our students a different perspective on the world and the great diversity in how we live. I hope they will remember this when they begin to work with their own patients, some of whom will be very different from them.”

Second-year student Anna Slomowitz said she appreciated the opportunity to go on a trip tied to her profession where she could immerse herself in the culture and lend a hand to those in need.

“It gave me a wealth of insight on what it takes to have a strong sense of what OTs call ‘therapeutic use of self,’ and to use knowledge as a tool to help others,” said Slomowitz, describing it as “the trip of a lifetime.”

Second-year student Kristina Matteo said the experience gave her direct exposure into the Moroccan way of life, including the food, language, traditions and everyday occupations. Her favorite part of the trip was riding a camel in Kenitra with a 9-year-old boy diagnosed with a stroke. She developed a strong therapeutic relationship with this child after spending the day with him and several other children from a local rehabilitation clinic.

“I had the privilege of giving him one of the gifts we brought from the U.S.,” Matteo said. “He put on his new pair of black sunglasses and asked to take a picture with me. Moments like these are exactly why I not only decided to attend this trip but also pursue the career of occupational therapy. This experience helped me gain a deeper understanding of my role as a future practitioner in assisting individuals of all cultural backgrounds participate in meaningful occupations.”