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.

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