Occupational therapy faculty and alumnae attend conference in Cape Town, South Africa

Story by Annie Peyton

When attending a professional conference it is not common to bump into colleagues while on a safari next to signs that say “don’t feed the monkeys;” but this was a recent experience for faculty from Colorado State University’s Department of Occupational Therapy. Anita Bundy, Mackenzi Pergolotti, Andy Persch and Arlene Schmid enjoyed an amazing and educational experience in Cape Town, South Africa earlier this year while attending the World Federation of Occupational Therapy Congress.

Painted dog

WFOT, which is held in a different international location every four years, brings together occupational therapists, speakers, presenters, students and professionals from around the globe to share knowledge and perspectives on the field of occupational therapy and to strengthen the profession’s community ties.

Connected in diversity

The 2018 WFOT’s motto, “Connected in diversity: Positioned for impact,” was woven throughout the conference and left a lasting impression on delegates. Walking the streets of Cape Town, delegates had the opportunity to appreciate the rich racial and ethnic diversity of South Africa while at the same time witnessing the lasting effects of its long history of colonialism and apartheid. South Africa ended apartheid in the 1990s, but “that segregation is still very much a part of the city,” said Persch.

Diversity was presented as a global, human problem, one that all delegates were challenged to bring back into what they do. Schmid, reflecting on the congress’ message, posed the question, “As humanity, how do we be more welcoming to diversity?”

Exchanging international expertise

Alexa Provancha, Arlene Schmid, Megan Roney and Chloe Phillips

With 2,000 delegates in attendance, our faculty and alumni were among 800 people who presented posters regarding their research. Schmid, who presented on the therapeutic benefits of yoga, said that she is accustomed to presenting her research to therapists who are already familiar with and enthusiastic about yoga-integrated practice. In South Africa, however, this concept was a novelty. Schmid spoke to an array of occupational therapists, some who even practiced yoga themselves, who had never thought to use yoga with their clients.

Schmid also supported three former thesis students, Alexa Provancha, Chloe Phillips and Megan Roney, who presented posters of their own research. “They were so excited and proud of their work,” said Schmid.

Persch presented his research on job-matching employment strategies, as well as healthy habits for children, specifically on the merits of sleep, diet and exercise as preventative medicine.

Pergolotti presented on a randomized control trial she conducted related to cancer rehabilitation for older adults.

A life-changing experience

Persch and his wife on African safari

Faculty members stayed busy attending talks and poster presentations over the course of the five-day congress but also had the opportunity to enjoy social events with colleagues and see sights of the area. All faculty members enjoyed going on a safari; Persch spent a day at an orphanage and Schmid visited an elephant preserve.

Bundy attended a second conference immediately following WFOT which was devoted to sensory integration theory, testing and intervention.  Practitioners and researchers throughout the world, all studying and/or implementing sensory integration, attended the event.

Pergolotti was able to spend six weeks in various parts of southern Africa, from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe to meeting with genocide survivors in Rwanda. Pergolotti, who shared the experience with her 10-year-old daughter, said, “It was a life-changing experience. I left with so much hope.”

African performance at WFOT

“It’s the community, socializing, networking and just being together with everyone,” said Persch, “sitting with occupational therapists from all over the place and getting to chat and have dinner together,” all over African music, African dancing and, of course, African food.

Schmid, who encourages everyone to consider attending the 2022 WFOT Congress in Paris, said about this year’s conference, “It was totally beautiful, amazing and life-changing. Whether it’s Africa or Paris, be open to new opportunities around the world.”

Bundy added, “The opportunity to learn about the similarities and differences in occupational therapy practice across the world is incredible. But the absolute best part of WFOT conferences, for me, is the opportunity to interact with colleagues from all over the world whose work I read and admire.”

The Department of Occupational Therapy is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.