Day 27 – my final working day

Thursday

Today was my last working day in Moldova. We had seven young people in attendance at the Centre as well as my supervisor who had, very kindly, broken her vacation week to be there for my last day. This actions exemplifies my experience of being a volunteer here – I have felt so valued every step of the way.

Our first activity was making a crafty name card for each person as we were planning a ‘gourmet sandwich making session’ in the afternoon and wanted a way to mark up each sandwich. This was an interesting one for me as my supervisor was absent at this point and as it wasn’t ‘my’ activity I was getting my instructions from another member of staff. She knew a few more English words than I do Romanian and with a combination of the two I got my instructions to help run the task. It gave me an insight as to what it may have been like to be a participant in the tasks I ran. After this we spent some time outside playing party games to celebrate (but in a very sad way, I was assured) my leaving.

After lunch we had a ‘reflective session’ where we viewed all the photos I’d taken at the Centre to a backing of our Latin Dance music. I think everyone enjoyed seeing all we’d done and it really did emphasise just how many experiences we’d had this Summer. I also felt quite sad seeing photos of the clients who were absent this week due to the lack of alternative travel options during the bus driver’s holiday.

Then it was time for our Gourmet Sandwich session. We had some ‘recipes’ from magazines and each person selected the one they wanted to make. The available staff provided some assistance and it was then I really got thinking about one of the cultural differences I’ve noticed here….

Perfectionism.

I’ve been attending some Zumba classes while I’ve been in Moldova and been very aware of a different approach to the class. In the classes I take in the UK an instructor may highlight a particular piece of footwork before each song but essentially the aim of the session is to get moving and keep moving. Working hard an having fun are key, if you get the steps right it’s a bonus. In the classes I’ve attended here the instructor runs through each track without music, breaking down the steps and showing good technique. If anyone makes a mistake in this marking stage, the instructor repeats the step. To me it has felt a little frustrating. While I am a dancer, I do not consider Zumba a dance class; I just want to dance about for an hour, get my heart rate up and I’ll figure the steps out as we do it. I do admire such attention to detail though and it fits with some of the Soviet style approaches I’ve observed. Anyway, back to my point. I also have experienced this approach on placement. When I’ve been working with the young people, as is normal for me, I’ve been getting to do as much of the task as they are able to do independently and help as little as is needed. Some of the other staff help those they are working with a lot more. As I result their finished products are neat and ‘perfect’, whereas the ones belonging to the clients I’ve worked with are often a little wonky or not so neat. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest – I want to see my clients produce their work, not mine, but I do wonder if the other staff have had any feelings about me allowing such ‘imperfection’.

During this task the manager of the centre came to present me with a report on my placement and the most touching thank you gift; a beautiful framed quotation surrounded by paper flowers. It was so special and meaningful, and feels quite strange to feel so valued during such a short placement, especially as the Centre has numerous volunteers (many of whom are Occupational Therapy students) throughout the year.

The party vibe continued with a late afternoon snack of the sandwiches and chocolates I’d bought. Moldova certainly has good chocolate products that I will miss! When the young adults went home the staff and I shared some freshly baked pizzas. It was lovely to sit together and have time to say goodbye and thank you properly. Usually, when I’ve been on placement in the UK, service demands mean that endings are a bit rushed and unplanned. This is totally understandable and not a big problem but it definitely made me appreciate how lucky I was to have a whole leaving day.

We then locked up and went our separate ways. Definitely the saddest ending to a placement. Going through the photos reminded me of just how much I’ve enjoyed working with each client in the Centre. The staff team were also brilliant, and unlike when I leave a UK placement, I know it’s unlikely our paths will cross in the future. Although, maybe I’ll come back to Moldova to spend some more time and at least we have the wonders of Facebook and email to keep in touch.

I also had a phonecall from the director of the company that organises the placements here thanking me for all my hard work. He said he felt I was one of the best volunteers they’d had at the Centre. Quite a compliment given all the good things I’ve heard about other volunteers. I told him it wasn’t hard work at all, but simply a pleasure and privilege to get to spend my days with the clients and staff here and that he and his team had made it so easy to be here and immerse myself into life at the Centre and in Chișinău.

It feels quite unbelievable that I’ve ‘only’ been here for four weeks. I suspect the range and nature of experiences, as well as the amount of personal growth that has happened, is why it feels much longer. When I first had the idea to arrange something like this I initially dismissed it as ‘that’s the type of thing other people do’. I wonder if that means I’m another person now, or perhaps that I already was that person but didn’t have the confidence in myself.

I have a full day in Chișinău tomorrow as I leave for the airport at 7.30pm. I’m hoping to spend the afternoon with my host and will use the morning to capture a couple of photos I’ve been meaning to take all month. I’ve just packed up my stuff and I have a lot more space as the majority of my baggage consisted of items for placement and toiletries. I have a few more blog pieces in mind, based on this trip, so I will aim to write them in the next week.

But for now, la revedere!

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Days 25 and 26

Tuesday

Tuesday wasn’t a great day. Many frustrations and not enough ‘good bits’. That said, it was the only day that i haven’t enjoyed in my time here so i can’t really complain. I arrived at the Centre to find we had another powercut. This meant no dancing to start our day (I think I get as much benefit from dancing first thing in the morning as the young adults do). We also had to rethink our next activity as while the activity didn’t require electricity to complete, we had not photocopied the sheets of pictures of daily occupations needed. So, the group spent some time playing outside and then drawing. Not the most imaginative of mornings. The power returned before lunch and the manager, my translator and I spent another frustrating hour trying to get the daily occupations task ready and contending with a photocopier that would only produce the faintest images from the print we provided.

I left work after lunch for my Romanian lesson, and the frustration continued. I then travelled back to my accommodation on a trolleybus that firstly disconnected from the overhead cables, then broke down (in a lovely spot right in the direct sunlight, though the driver did at least leave the doors open, not that it provided much relief from the intense heat), once moving again got stuck in traffic, and finally got wedged behind another trolleybus that had disconnected from its cables. When I arrived home after 6pm I was hot, tired and a little bit fed up! Thankfully some food, a shower and a trip to the gym cheered me up.

Wednesday

What a difference a day makes! I appear to have caught a cold. So that, combined with a slight ‘hangover’ of the frustrations from yesterday, meant that I felt a bit under par when I started my day. I then got the news that my flight home had been changed by the airline and instead of arriving at 7pm on Friday it will now be landing at 11.30pm. At this point I did wonder if the frustration theme was set to continue but somehow, mindfully, I got on with my day.

I spent my whole day working individually with the 5 young adults in attendance today. One by one we talked through their daily routine and made a poster of the times they engage in all of their important occupations. The aim was to create a focus on independent personal hygiene with the hope that an individual poster might be used as a prompt sheet at home. It gave me a great insight into their lives and also, due to having a translator, I got to hear a lot more of their conversation that when I’m working with my supervisor who only has time to briefly summarise the content – having a translator is definitely a ‘pros and cons’ type experience.

I was struck by how similar each person’s day was. The times varied due to the person’s proximity to the Centre, but the nature of occupations participated in was so similar. Part of this is cultural. People in Chișinău do lead lives that are full of domestic activities; daily trips to the market for food, food preparation, eating as a family and watching television together. But, I imagine that most young people here would have a bit more variety and independence in the occupations they participate in and I suspect people with learning disabilities experience significant inequality in the opportunities they have to choose how they spend their time. Their daily routines seemed more akin to those of a young child who is entirely reliant on their parents and there was an absence of time spent with friends or in participating in any leisure activities other than television. I’m not sure why this surprised me, it certainly fits with my observations of the expectation for people with learning disabilities to be hidden from society, but I suppose just seeing it in black and white really confirmed this for me. I certainly feel very glad that they attend the Centre and experience the social interactions and range of activities available to them there.

Despite feeling a little sad about the above I valued working with each person today. It was an absolute privilege to get that time with them as normally we are trying to run group activities. I can’t believe tomorrow is my last day on placement. Working with everyone out here has been the absolute highlight of my trip. I also feel so lucky that I can get so much personal benefit from ‘doing OT’, I’ve had many days on placements where I have felt tired, sad or grumpy at 8am and then found my mood has lifted the minute I start working with people. I feel very hopeful about, and lucky to have, a career full of ‘doing OT’ ahead of me.

Days 23 and 24

Sunday

I rounded off my fourth and final weekend in Chișinău with a visit to the stunning Organ Hall to attend a concert given by the capital’s youth orchestra. They were fantastic. In particular their fifteen year old piano soloist was quite remarkable, she performed with the maturity of someone much older.

While the quality of the performance could have permitted me to believe I was at a concert in Vienna there were certain moments that reminded me I was most definitely in Chișinău…

Entrance to the concert was free and so when the doors opened there was a mini stampede for seats. The other volunteers and I were not quick enough to get a seat but we soon noticed people bringing in chairs from the rooms outside the main hall. We joined them and added our chair to the end of the ‘reserved’ 3rd row. Fortunately for us, the health and safety attitudes that had prevented baking at the day centre were not adopted here; no problem at all with blocking the aisles!

We were sitting by the official cameraman who was using a Sony video camera that probably dated from the 1980s. Definitely not digital and the battery pack had to be changed three times during the performance (might I add the batteries were about the size of a house brick).

The ‘encore’ baffled me slightly, too (they have a different name for it but I didn’t catch it). After the final piece was played the house lights went up and there was lots of applause. The encore was called for, along with a type of uniform handclap, and the orchestra obliged. And then a second encore was called, this time the orchestra responded with my favourite piece from ‘Swan Lake’. More applause. And another encore. We sat through 5 extra pieces, with people gradually leaving after each one. I’m not sure when the poor orchestra were finally allowed to stop, I think the appreciative audience were in danger of exhausting their repertoire!

What else? Oh yes, the heat! It was 32 degrees outside the venue and about the same inside. I’m definitely glad I wasn’t playing the clarinet for 2.5 hours.

Monday

My final week on placement is going to be a little different as my supervisor is on annual leave. Consequently I have a translator to allow me to communicate effectively with both staff and clients. It was a strange experience. My translator is lovely and someone I’ve got to know throughout my time here. I was slightly apprehensive about taking an ‘outsider’ to work with me, given that she wasn’t familiar with learning disability settings. I needn’t have worried as she fitted in perfectly, joining in with our cleaning and dancing activities – all ‘above and beyond’ her duties as my translator. She admitted to me as we left she had been nervous about being there today, simply due to not being sure what it would be like to be around people with learning disabilities. She then said that she’d really enjoyed it and liked the centre. I was so pleased that she’d had such a positive experience, especially because people in Chișinău who don’t work in healthcare, and even many who do, are unlikely to meet people with learning disabilities as they are so protected and almost ‘hidden’ here.

As for the effect of having a translator on me, definitely a mixed experience! It afforded me much more autonomy as I wasn’t conveying my ideas to a supervisor who then implemented them in the way she imagined, given that she was often involved in leading the activities too. But, in a strange way it also reduced my independence. When I worked with my supervisor I’d often find she disappeared when I was starting a group session and so I figured out how to run the session and communicate with lots of non-verbal gestures and demonstrations. Today, however, I was ‘on my own’ but had someone to translate my intentions/questions/prompts. While both I and my translator were clear on what was happening I think for many of the clients it appeared as if my translator was the one running the session. She was the one they were hearing their instructions, encouragement and feedback from, despite them being my words. While I was able to complete a more complex intervention today, I almost preferred it being just me and them and few words. I hadn’t expected that.

Due to our low number of clients this week (seven today), I grasped the opportunity to do some individual assessment and work. I introduced the clients to my tablet PC and we spent some time working through a variety of logic games, artistic apps, puzzles, music games and sports games. They were so engaged, I suspect because both individual work and tablet use was different for them. I hoped it would engage them well as many of them enjoy games on their ‘phones (most have a ‘phone but they are pretty basic, non-smartphone types) and they do not have access to computers at the centre. Chișinău is a city that is very rapidly catching up with the technological age, with free WiFi in the many public parks, so it felt relevant as an occupation that will be becoming increasingly prevalent in their society. It also allowed me to provide a range of app choices to suit their interests and the areas I thought might be useful to work on.

Tablet use is great for being able to show a range of options and letting the client pick the games they want to try. Happily, by choosing their own games they all seemed to pick things that they were interested in AND addressed the skills I thought they could do with working on. I’m not sure if that was coincidental or not. I suppose allowing that element of client-centredness ensures that the ‘meaning’ is present. It also means that the right challenge level is found as the client doesn’t pick a game with no demand for them. As for how it worked that those with good fine motor skills picked the games most challenging for process skills, I’m not sure.

I’m so impressed with the types of apps out there. I only have free apps on my tablet and yet I managed to find so many options that are also age appropriate – something which I have noticed is a challenge here, in terms of the printed materials available at the centre.

While I loved the app session it certainly has prompted me to reflect on the challenge of ensuring client-centredness due to the language barrier. I’ve done my best to adapt tasks to suit individual’s strengths and needs, their interests and their engagement/participation levels. But so much of it has been supposition and guess-work. If I had longer here I’d definitely work on ways of assessing and identifying goals and priorities with, and not for, the young adults. It definitely hasn’t felt comfortable for me to work this way (which, ultimately, reassures me) but I think adopting a different approach would be a considerable task. Not only would I have to work out how to do it, which probably wouldn’t be that hard, but I think I’d have to do a lot of explaining of my reasoning and theory to all the staff as this would be a very different approach for them. Part of me thinks ‘why didn’t I start this in week 1?’. However, I didn’t and I know I did the best I could at the time. I also am not sure it would have been achievable in a month long placement, so perhaps incorporating small glimmers of client-centredness is Good Enough. Who knows? I’ll keep reflecting.

Days 21 and 22 – Cricova Winery

Friday

Yet another sunny day in Chișinău. In fact, in the time I’ve been here there has only been 1 heavy rain shower amidst unbroken sunshine.

Today was the first day of the bus driver’s holiday, so we had 6 young people in attendance, compared to our usual 25. We began the day watching some educational videos about Great Britain and Moldova, they were both in Russian so I didn’t understand much. Although the video about Stonehenge was accompanied by music played on bagpipes…

We then began our work on daily routines, with a particular focus on self-care routines in the morning as some of the group have difficulty with maintaining their personal hygiene. This was a challenging session for me, as it was something I was keen to work on but was much harder to do without good language skills compared to the more practical tasks I had been leading. Fortunately my supervisor was able to lead the discussion while I assembled the poster of the agreed routine. Throughout the task I was beating myself up a little as my intention had been that each person would create a morning routine poster, unique to their own habits, that they could take home as a reminder. I’d thought my idea had either been lost in translation or ignored by my supervisor but it became apparent that Monday’s activity will be me repeating the task but on an individual level. This scenario highlighted a definite difference in my UK and Moldovan placement experience. A lot of the time I have to ‘go with the flow’ a lot more, as I do not have the luxury of understanding all the conversation between staff members and clients in order to know what’s happening!

At lunch time the staff team were very concerned that I eat a good lunch, as I was going to visit a winery and partake in some wine tasting in the afternoon. They had a typical Moldovan meal for me with Borsch, Stuffed Peppers and lots of bread. It was all most tasty.

I left placement early to go on the aforementioned trip. On my way I visited the post office to post some cards home. They cost only 22p per airmail stamp. Quite amazing given the current UK internal mail prices. I’ll be interested to find out how long they take to arrive in Marea Brittanie!

Then, to the winery! Cricova winery is one of Moldova’s most famous and located just outside of Chișinău. It’s known as the underground wine city as it consists of a maze of roads and rooms 60-80m underground. The underground world allows the wine to be stored in perfect conditions for its maturation. The temperature is about 14 degrees Celsius and humidity 98%. I wished I’d brought my one and only long sleeve hooded top with me as it was a big temperature gradient to enter the tunnels from the 32degrees outside. We were shown around the winery from our mini train (connecting golf cart style trains). In particular the process of creating the sparkling wine, for which they use the same traditional method as in Champagne, was very interesting. We had a tour of the wine tasting suite. This comprised a number of themed rooms, all 60m underground but with features like a real wood burning fire, or windows that appeared to have daylight. We finished the tour in the underwater themed room (an interesting theme for a landlocked country). Here we tasted a white, rosé, red and sparkling white wine. They each had a unique and distinct aroma. The rosé smelt of black current and other forest fruits. My favourite was the sparkling wine, of which I was given a second glass. Noroc!

Cricova was fascinating and so different to any other experience in Chișinău so far. I suspect the reason for this was simply money. Every other tourist type attraction I’ve seen so far has been wonderful, but the challenge of low visitor numbers and very tight budgets has been evident in poor quality lighting or run down interiors of the attractions. Even the monastery that I visited on Wednesday, although beautifully maintained and cherished, used basic items for its construction. There is clearly money in wine, as the quality of the furnishings and vast areas of marble demonstrated. It was beautiful, but ever so slightly incongruous with what I’ve seen of the country. As we hurtled around the dark tunnels on our wine train I also had a mental image of scenes from Harry Potter, and also, perhaps more disturbingly, the tourists visiting the Volturi in The Twilight Saga books (for the uninitiated the tourists are ushered around a beautiful, marbled, Italian building before becoming the next meal for the Volturi vampires). It was brilliant! I also loved how each tunnel was named after a Cricova wine. I can’t remember the names of those unique to Cricova, but we certainly travelled along Strada Cabernet and Strada Sauvignon.

Saturday

It’s only 3.30pm here so perhaps a little early for my Saturday entry, but never mind! This morning the other volunteers and I visited the ‘National Museum of Etnography and Natural History’ in Chișinău. Although, I’d somehow missed the ‘and natural history’ part of the description before arriving and so my inner geologist was incredibly surprised and pleased to get to view Moldova’s extensive collection of rocks and fossils! There were some awesome exhibits of trilobites and ammonites discovered, as well as corals and brachiopods from hotter and wetter times. I particularly enjoyed being able to see the soil types from various parts of the country and the richness of the soil, that allows for extensive agriculture here, was evident. We also saw exhibits of national clothing and important figures in Moldovan cultural history.

I’m planning to have a mostly relaxing weekend as I’m feeling pretty tired now, although will be attending a concert by the National Youth Orchestra tomorrow. It’s hard to believe that I’m about to start my last week here. I feel very sad about leaving this placement as there’s so much more work I could help with, although I am looking forward to getting back to having my own space and not being a guest any more!

Day 20

Thursday

Today was brilliant, we didn’t do anything out of the ordinary but it was a great day for my learning. Although, it has dawned on me today how much I miss having an occupational therapist supervisor with whom I can reflect on my observations, particularly of analysis of motor and process skills and motivations for occupation. At least I have this blog, and I suppose it encourages me to think a little for myself.

We began the day with a craft exercise that I had devised. It involved each person drawing around their hands on a foam sheet of ‘paper’. They then cut out the hand prints and joined them together with a paper ‘double concertina’. The whole task was quite challenging as it required lots of bilateral movement and use of the non-dominant hand to draw the second hand print. I found it fascinating to watch – every young adult seemed to find or part of the task easy and another more difficult, but there was no uniformity in which part of the task was hardest for them. Some I expected to need lots of help to make the concertina, but after a quick demonstration they picked it up straightaway. Others needed continuous reassurance for that part but were easily able to draw their handprints and assemble the final item. With everyone a forward chaining learning process seemed to work, some liked to watch me demonstrate on my ‘one I prepared earlier’ and then replicate independently, whereas other preferred to have some assistance to start each part of the task before completing it themselves. As I say, it was fascinating, but I did have a moment of just wanting a more experienced occupational therapist there watching so that I could discuss all that I was trying to analyse.

The second part of the day was a slightly surreal leaving party for me. Although I have a week left on placement a lot of the young adults will not be in attendance after today, due to the bus driver’s holiday that I mentioned previously. I was given my final report/letter about my placement as my supervisor is also on holiday next week. It was lovely to read, but in some ways I was surprised that things like having good communication and being knowledgeable were praised, as I’ve wondered about the level to which my skills have crossed language and cultural barriers.

The group activity this afternoon was a drawing teamwork game. Everyone started with a blank piece of paper and began a design. We had music playing and when the music stopped we passed it to the person on the right who added their design (this worked well until we had a power-cut!). Eventually each person ended up with their own picture back, but with the contributions of 19 other people. I was very touched to be given everybody’s drawing as a leaving gift while they kept the one I had begun as a memory of my time with them. Definitely a *goosebumps* moment as each person presented me with their picture and shook my hand.

My supervisor and I then made some plans for tomorrow’s small group. We want to do some work on personal hygiene and so I suggested making a poster about each person’s morning self-care routine. Finally, I’m managing to incorporate some occupations other than leisure and education (productivity).

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Day 19 – Mănăstirea Hâncu

Wednesday

Today was our long awaited excursion to Mănăstirea Hâncu, one of the largest monasteries in Moldova, located about 40km outside of the capital. This was my first trip into the countryside and I found the rolling hills and endless forest very beautiful. Despite the heat of 20 people in an old minibus the journey was very pleasant and I enjoyed every minute. We arrived and the girls donned their headscarves while the boys removed baseball caps and we approached the monastery. Hâncu is home to at least twenty nuns and consists of a number of beautifully kept yellow buildings in the traditional Greek Orthodox style. The buildings are surrounded by the most vibrant and colourful selection of flowers that I’ve seen here and while we were there the ongoing nature of the upkeep of the land by the nuns was evident. The main church building is currently undergoing renovation and its access by some rickety planks of wood was a little challenging for some of our group. However, when it is finished it will be stunning. The nuns were also working in the grounds with their home produced vegetables preserving them in jars for the winter ahead. This is very common practice for all Moldovan households, just the scale of the operation here was much larger. The nuns also have a considerable amount of farmland where they produce all of their food. the monastery is entirely self-sufficient. We then walked to an area where a natural spring water flowed, which is known for its holy properties. The group seemed to relish drinking and bathing their hands and faces in the ice cold water. We enjoyed a picnic lunch nearby before making the journey back to the centre.

Throughout the trip I was, again, pleasantly surprised by the behaviour of our group. I suspect it’s a lot to do with the cultural importance of religion and monasteries but everyone was very quiet and respectful when moving throughout the grounds. One of the young male clients, who has limited verbal communication methods, understood that he needed to reduce the volume of his speech and swapped to using more hand gestures to express his wishes.

A most pleasant day, if a little tiring. Just uploading some of the photos of the incredible buildings at the monastery. It really was something so very different to I have ever seen before and a definite privilege to get to go there as part of my placement.

Oh, and I’ve discovered the most delicious Moldovan chocolates. The most famous chocolatier here is ‘Bucuria’ and a particular chocolate, ‘Favorit Plus’ is definitely a new addiction. It is a dark chocolate shell surrounding a milk chocolate/praline type filling and a whole but in the centre. This might thwart my plans to come home with a much lighter rucksack that I travelled here with!

Day 18

Tuesday

Today had a slightly different start to our planned activity. I arrived and was asked to run a Latin dance exercise group. Fine. I had music and willing participants, but unfortunately no change of clothes for myself for afterwards – 45 minutes dancing in 28+ degree heat is hot work! Oh well. I then learned the reason for the change of plan. The centre was being inspected by the Directorate of Children’s Services (again, an indication of attitudes to learning disabilities in Moldova: our youngest client is 17, oldest 45 an most in their twenties…) and our planned activity of cooking is not permitted by said directorate. I had to hide my *jaw drop* reaction and find out why, given that a principle aim of the centre is to promote independent living skills, an aim which is supported by the aforementioned Directorate. Apparently it’s due to risk. It’s funny, I’d wrongly assumed that things in Moldova would be a bit more relaxed regarding Health and Safety. The centre’s staff have food hygiene training and the oven is located in an area off limits to the young adults. The latter fact originally frustrate me as I wondered how cooking skills would be worked on, now I realise that a cooking group would only involve the preparation of the food but not the cooking. And even that is prohibited.

The inspector left and we continued with a day full of planned activities. As to what they entailed, I couldn’t possibly comment…

I left slightly early to complete another Romanian language lesson. I’m making progress, albeit slowly. I keep going to shops and restaurants to test out my skills, often the staff members speak to me in English before I’ve even spoken (no, I am not wearing clothes with a Union Jack on them). Other times I start conversation in Romanian and they respond in English! I think it’s just the culture here to be incredibly helpful and welcoming to foreigners (despite tourist being pretty rare here) and it is a requirement that people here learn a language (often English) all through their schooling. It’s lovely, but not helping me learn! Ironically, the only person who conversed with me in Romanian today was a man selling postcards in the tourist souvenir market.