St Lucia is one of the Windward Islands situated in the Caribbean. I came to St Lucia in January 2014 to work at the Child Development and Guidance Centre (CDGC) as a volunteer Paediatric Occupational Therapist. It had been a long term goal to do some volunteer work abroad to help children who have very little or no help with their disability. Due to the lack of Occupational Therapist’s on the island I felt I could offer my experience and time. I arranged for a three month sabbatical from my current post as a community paediatric OT to fulfil my goal.
The Centre was established 15 years ago by Dr Schuling, she is a German paediatrician providing comprehensive developmental assessment and therapy for children with special needs. They currently have 5 permanent members of staff which consists of a Paediatrician, Educational Psychologist, Physiotherapist, Office Manager and receptionist. They have a visiting Art Therapist who is volunteering at the centre part time to provide therapy indefinitely. The Centre relies on experience volunteers to cover OT and SLT needs of the children in St Lucia.
The Centre offers ongoing assessment, diagnosis, intervention and support for children and their families. They cover ages ranging from birth to 18 years old. The conditions seen are varied and include Cerebral Palsy, ASC, Downs Syndrome, ADHD, and developmental delay.
It was very rewarding working as part of a team, sharing ideas, problem solving and learning from each other. Currently the centre has three therapy rooms to see children and while I was out there we had five professionals working. The Centre is looking to expand in the near future as they have outgrown their current premises.
The Centre receives a small amount of government funding and do rely heavily on charity funding. They have local and international sponsors that cover part of the expenditures but would benefit from any other funding.
Whilst working in the Centre many of the children had sensory processing difficulties. A lot of my time was spent on assessment and strategies to work with these children. One of the challenges I enjoyed overcoming was being very creative with resources. Equipment was limited on the island so we made a lot of resources using local materials. I also made visual sensory programmes, taking photos of the children completing calming activities to use both at home and school. On a Saturday morning children from the cerebral palsy association attended Hippo Therapy. Therapist from the CDGC and parents gave children opportunities to ride ponies from a riding stable who offered their facilities to these disadvantage children. The focus was of fun and new experiences for the children.
As OT’s we are child focused, and for me this was the highlight of my time there. I was able to directly work with children and their families, and some of the challenges that we face in the UK can sometimes reduce the amount of time that we have to do this.
St Lucia has a divided society with a lot of poverty. The island it self is very hilly and most of the houses are built on stilts to accommodate this. The streets are often uneven with a lot of pot holes which will require resources that the island does not have to make them disabled friendly.
My learning experiences out in St Lucia have helped me develop my knowledge and understanding of the cultural and ethical differences to the United Kingdom. This opportunity has given my continuing professional development a great boost which has helped me within my community role at home.