UKZN Occupational Therapists Reach out to Refugee Children
The quality of life for refugee children at a Chatsworth camp in Durban is improving weekly thanks to UKZN occupational therapists (OT) and students committed to alleviating harm caused by xenophobic attacks.
The team of staff and final-year students led by OT Senior Tutor, Ms Chantal Christopher, said the camp was chaotic.
While there had been outreach from companies and non-governmental organisations at the site, the team noted that not all children responded well to mass interventions.
The children needed aid more geared towards optimising their well-being and functioning through alternate experience and recovery of roles. Successful interventions needed to prompt a positive response within the children.
‘All their thoughts, hopes and dreams have been slashed,’ said Christopher.
With the primary goal of occupational therapy being to enable individuals to participate independently in their activities of daily living, UKZN’s OT team aimed to reinvigorate and remind the victims of the joy of being children again.
‘The kids need educational stimulation ad maybe even reintegration into school,’ she said. ‘It is important to build their resilience and allow them to be children within their developmental levels.’
The team, which visits the site every Wednesday, has also strengthened its focus on youngsters between the ages of eight and 15 whom they said are often the forgotten minority because they are not considered young children or adults.
All the work has been done on a voluntary basis with very limited resources. It has proved to be an invaluable opportunity, however, because it allowed students to broaden their scope of practice and become social activists and agents of change.
Christopher said she was passionate about the intervention because she had conducted OT research three years ago on refugees. ‘When the xenophobia arose we knew we had to step in to help.’
Christopher and her colleagues are also writing chapters for an upcoming book compiled by the organisation: OT without Borders.