OT Student Genessa talks about work with refugees on fieldwork
Since the start, I have been amazed at the generosity of the families we work with. They come here as refugees and have to build their lives from the ground up, often barely able to meet their families' basic needs by working minimum wage. There was one woman I worked with whose family had come to the U.S. from Somalia. She was referred to us for help using her new prosthetic leg around the house (couldn't keep up with responsibilities – 10 kids at home!) and learning to ride the bus to her PT appointments. On our 2nd visit, I planned to meet at her home and go with her on the bus to the clinic. But we didn't quite make it to the bus stop on time…which is a whole different but really funny story! I was sad we missed an opportunity for bus training, but it still was my responsibility to get her to therapy – so we took my car instead.
I wished I could take advantage of this time to ask questions and get to know her better, but she only knew a couple words in English. This was near the beginning of my fieldwork, when I was still learning how to build rapport in non-verbal ways, so I couldn't think of much to do or say during the 20-minute drive! Her 13-year-old son was with us though, and he could understand a little more. I would have hated for it to be a silent ride, so I did what I could – let the son pick the radio station, pointed out some landmarks, signs, etc. to them, and gave them some gum. Such little acts, yet it soon became apparent what an impression that had on them. They shared a brief conversation, then the son reached into his pocket to give me something. I was stunned to see him offer a nickel and a dime – an amount of money many would view as insignificant, but represented much more coming from a family in such financial need. I couldn't allow myself to take it from them, so I tried to turn it down kindly by thanking them but saying they really didn't need to give me anything. I was even more shocked at what the boy did next: he grabbed the gum wrapper I had placed in the cup holder, along with an older piece of trash nearby, and stuck them in his shirt pocket while flashing me a proud grin. It was like they wanted so badly to help me out in some way, to show a small gesture of kindness in return for my time spent helping them. They are the epitome of unselfishness! Since that day, I've seen similar situations occur with other families where those who have the least want to give the most. Knowing their situation makes it hard for me to accept even small gifts, but at the same time I think it is a way for them to show appreciation, especially when they are not able to express it through words. So that's my little story which has little to do with occupational therapy itself…but provides a glimpse of the humbling experiences I often have, that leave me feeling glad to be doing this every day!