NYU Steinhardt News

Department of Occupational Therapy Travels to Ghana, Africa

Anita Perr, Clinical Associate Professor in Steinhardt's Department of Occupational Therapy and Sarah DeMott, Program Manager for the Office of Academic Initiatives and Global Programs, recently traveled to Ghana with a group of NYU students and colleagues.  Below, they share their thoughts and memories of the unforgettable experience.

Akwaaba: Welcome. That's the way we were greeted over and over again during our intersession course, Disability in the Global Context: Ghana, which took place over 12 days in Accra, Ghana. And we did feel welcomed. In fact, for some of us who are long-time New Yorkers, it was culture shock just to have to smile and greet everyone we met on the street. What a warm and friendly society.

The timing of the course was serendipitous. Ghana recently held elections and run off elections, and we were there for the transfer of power. Although none of us actually made it close enough to see the ceremonies, we were honored to be part of the experience. Ghanaian's hopefulness with their new president echoed our similar situation in the United States.  The connection was mentioned by many people and was often a starting point for further discussions.

As instructors, Sheri Wadler and I, both of the Department of Occupational Therapy at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, developed this new course as an exploration of place in relation to health and disability. Fifteen graduate students registered for and participated in the course. The interdisciplinary group included Steinhardt representation from the following departments and programs: Occupational Therapy; Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology; Applied Psychology; International Education; and Higher and Postsecondary Education. In addition to Steinhardt scholars, students from the Public Administration and Health and International Health Policy and Management programs at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and the Global Affairs program at the School of Continuing and Professional Studies attended the course. Each student brought a rich background and experience to the group, and together we were able to explore the complicated issues that arose in Ghana.

Using a framework to interview people with and without disabilities in health facilities and in public places, students were able to hear first hand accounts and personal views on family, health and politics, among many other topics. During the two week course, students visited mental health facilities, hospitals, schools, and elder care centers. They also evaluated the environments they visited in terms of physical accessibility and sensory stimulation. In addition to on-site class seminars, local experts were invited to deliver guest lectures which were lively, enthralling and insightful. In their journals, students reflected on their own learning, and demonstrated ways to synthesize health education in the cultural context of west Africa into their own worldviews and professional roles.

In addition to course work in the cosmopolitan surroundings of Accra, students visited the Gold Coast region contextualing traditional village life and the history of colonial occupation. Tracing the origins of the African slave trade along the Atlantic coast, students visited the Elmina Slave Castle. Organized in conjunction with a group of social work students from a New York Consortium, including students from NYU's Silver School of Social Work. These two groups also traveled together to the Kakum National Forest where they trekked a canopy walk over the rain forest. That same evening, these groups were joined with a group of Tisch School of the Arts Scholars in Cape Coast, Ghana, for a banquet and interactive performance of Fetu dancers and musicians.

As is often the case in special experiences such as this, the whole of the experience is so much more than the sum of its parts. The participants, site visits, excursions, meals, accommodations, and even the bus driver all added to our stories and memories. My own experience was just wonderful. Support from the Steinhardt Office of Academic Initiatives and Global Programs, as well as from NYU Ghana made this course, which required substantial planning, a tremendous success. Class discussions extended beyond my expectations. Much of the credit goes to the students who were mature, adventuresome, caring, and passionate. They placed the bar high for future classes to meet and exceed their experiences.