Richmond, Va.
Monday, Aug. 3, 2015

VCU Allied Health Occupational Therapy Students travel to Ghana for course in disability culture

Students use OT skills to provide consultation and evaluation to children with disabilities

Friday, June 26, 2009

Meredith Cofield, an OT student, works with young Elizabeth who has Down's Syndrome. Pictured in the background is Stacey Reynolds, who is explaining to the parents how working on good lip closure will strengthen Elizabeth’s mouth muscles and help improve her speech and self-feeding abilities. Photo by Susan Phipps

A group of Virginia Commonwealth University occupational therapy graduate students recently returned from two weeks in Ghana, West Africa, as part of a study aboard course called “Disability Culture in West Africa.”

The course focused on understanding Ghanaian disability laws, the experiences of those living with disabilities and the influence of Ghanaian culture and the environment on the development of children with and without disabilities.

The team of five was led by Stacey Reynolds, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy.

“For the students, the trip provides an opportunity to grow as professionals and stretch themselves beyond their Western comfort zone,” Reynolds says. “One two-week trip is not going to have a lasting impact in the country, but our goal at VCU is to develop and cultivate ongoing relationships that may help provide better services for people with disabilities in the future.”

By partnering with Sovereign Global Missions, a non-governmental organization, the students had service and educational experiences in the country and even before take-off. 

On the right, VCU students Jessica Secor, Susan Phipps, and Meredith Cofield participate in a weekly program where children who are homeless come to this center on Sunday to attend Sunday school. They also receive a free meal and first aid. The activities are sponsored by Sovereign Global Missions. Photo by Stacey Reynolds

Prior to departure, students collected book donations and were able to ship more than 500 pounds of books to the SGM community library. Phi Theta Epsilon, the OT student honor society, raised funds for shipping the books.

Once in Ghana, students and faculty helped professional painters paint the interior and exterior of the community school building, which is scheduled to open to children in the Adoteiman community this fall.

This service project was a continuation of the efforts initiated by the VCU School of Social Work, which has worked to clear the land and build both the SGM Adoteiman School and library.

The team members also used their occupational therapy skills to provide consultation and evaluation to village and street children with disabilities and their families. They provided training to staff at a school for children with developmental disabilities, conducted an in-service for teachers and aides on safe transfer techniques and adapted school, self-care and play materials for children with disabilities. 

Students also interviewed community leaders on the perception of disabilities in Ghanaian culture and the role a new disability law will play in changing the conditions for people with disabilities in Ghana. In addition, the team visited an orphanage for children with special needs, including HIV/AIDS, and a government sponsored rehabilitation center in the city of Accra.

For more about the study abroad experiences, visit the following faculty and student blogs: