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Report on visit to Occupational Therapy Biannual Congress held in Tanzania

The Occupational Therapist at Vryheid hospital, Helga Kock,  was fortunate to get to go to the OT Biannual Congress held in Tanzania where she gave a presentation on Community Service. This is her report from the event.

Wow – it really happened. I really went to Tanzania. Somehow, I have to
pinch myself, each time I reminisce about the week gone by, as it still
seems so surreal. Driving down a bumpy road, listening to Swahili Jazz,
chatting to Ali Mushi from Moshi… the experience was, for lack of a better word, extraordinary.

But let me start at the beginning. From the 15th to the 19th of August
2005, OTARG (Occupational Therapy African Regional Group), held its biannual congress in Moshi, Tanzania. In search of an African Identity, marked not only the theme, but also the core problem which we are faced with in the 21st Century. 

The last couple of decades have showed increasing advances in equipment and technology, something which those not in the ‘western, first world countries’, cannot even hope to compare with.

But, instead of being ashamed and feeling inferior, we realized how Occupational Therapy in Africa, truly returns the profession to its roots – creativity, activity, and the ability to make a difference, at grass roots level.

I was privileged to attend this congress and give a presentation on Community Service in South Africa, with my personal experience here in Vryheid. This is a unique year in our country, which newly qualified allied health care professionals enter, before carrying on whichever path in their career. However, the situation of starting and running ones own department, with limited resources, is mirrored in many other African countries.

Tanzania turned out to be rather different from my expectations. Come to think about it, the romanticized version of ‘the KCMC at the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro’ could not have been accurate. We are after all, still in ‘deepest darkest Africa’. However, after 6 days, I can honestly say that you fall in love with it. Our week was spent not only listening to various papers, but also getting to know the people of this rooftop-of-Africa region. Not seeing any of the touristy landmarks (Serengeti, Gorongoro Crater), but rather sitting in the back of a Taxi, driving to the rural CBR villages, and drinking banana beer. The Kilimanjaro Christian and Medical Centre, is one of the largest referral hospitals in Tanzania, and they have volunteers from across the world, who stay anything from 2 months, to 2 years, to 12. There is much poverty amongst the locals, however definitely no lack of smiling faces, shining eyes, or home-grown food.

The congress participants were mostly from Africa, although a number did come from the United Kingdom, and even Canada and USA. It is quite remarkable how small the world can become in such a short time. We are united in our plight of assisting people with disabilities, and showing them that they have the power, to help themselves.

During the evenings, we were entertained with cultural festivities and Karibu Dinners. Then, there were always the numerous climbers going up or coming down the mountain. Amongst these, were the 12 ladies from the ‘Celebrate Life’ Team (as followed on East Coast Radio).

I believe that we can, in comparison to our comrades in other African countries, be grateful for what we have here in our beloved land. Yes, we are still a far cry from perfect service delivery. But, at the moment, the Department of Health should be commended for at least trying to improve the situation. Fellow workers, let us continuously remember the privilege of our duty and the importance of each person’s life.

Thank-you to God for making this all possible. What an experience, to be cherished!
Helga Kock

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