I can’t believe it’s only day 3, I feel like I’ve been here for weeks!
This morning I was met by one of the team from the organisers of my voluntary work and escorted to my placement using the, somewhat shaky, trolleybuses. Fortunately it wasn’t as hot as it has been and the buses weren’t too crowded (some of them make a rush hour London Tube carriage look spacious). The journey took an hour and fifteen minutes to travel just a few miles, and I began to realise why volunteers are not expected to start work at the opening time of the centre. I also found it rather odd being ‘looked after’ by my guide. I mean, I am very grateful that they make sure you are comfortable in a new city, but I gained the perspective of what it might have been like for a client on my last placement, with whom we worked on independent bus use.
Anyway, I made it to my placement, which is a day centre for teenagers with learning disabilities. Well, bar the clients in their forties. The centre is basic but clean and tidy, it shares grounds with an orphanage and there are lots of smaller children running around. ‘My’ clients were doing their weekly chores of sweeping the paths and yard when I arrived, though most were very keen to meet the new volunteer. Once the jobs were done the whole group assembled and we had a group meeting where I introduced myself and told them about my life in the UK and they introduced themselves and told me what they liked to do. They then asked me lots of questions about the UK; our transport, weather, sports and chocolate. This was a pretty long session, especially as everything I said had to be translated into Russian and Romanian.
Afterwards it was lunchtime, and I had the privilege of being included in one of the staff member’s birthday celebrations. Birthdays are a very special event here and an important time for people to reflect on their lives and families. There was lots of food and even small amounts of special home-produced Moldovan wine.
After lunch the activities began. On first impression I’d say that most activities are either education or sport based. I was able to interact reasonably well with the clients and hope that if I can learn a few key Russian and Romanian phrases I’ll really be able to get somewhere.
First impressions about learning disability services in Moldova…
Well, while the service does aim to increase independent living skills the belief that any of the clients could ever have more independence than attending a day centre and living at home seems to be absent. But as the country has no means to support a person with a learning disability having more autonomy, it’s understandable that this attitude prevails. In fact, I suspect this is one of the more forward-thinking institutions (and I use the word deliberately) in the region.
Occupational therapy is definitely an emerging field in this centre. There is plenty of use of activity to provide structure and some meaning, but I think there is a lot of scope for application of occupational therapy theory to improve the skills and quality of life of the clients.
It will be interesting to see how my first impressions change during the placement. I’ll report back on any developments!