Danielle Namour, M.O.T., ’17, touched many lives while using her occupational therapy skills during a recent trip to Brazil. She experienced the joy of providing wheelchairs to others allowing them to become more a part of their communities. Read more about her story and why she is ready to go again.
Why did you choose to go to Brazil?
Brazil chose me. I applied about one month before the trip to travel with Joni and Friend’s Wheels for the World and it was one of the only locations available. I love to travel and wanted to explore a country I had not previously experienced. Brazil as a country has always fascinated me and I had not previously been there. I researched pictures and fell in love with it.
Why were you excited about this opportunity?
I was thrilled to actually implement the skills I had spent the past few years learning in a real and tangible way to directly impact the people of Brazil. In addition, I was excited to see how I personally would grow and change through this trip.
What did you find most rewarding about your experience in Brazil?
Most rewarding were the connections I made with my team members, as well as the Brazilians. My team was made up of incredible, kind and self-less individuals and it was such an honor to get to know them. There were four other occupational therapists on the team, as well as a physical therapist, a professional photographer, mechanics and support team members, all coming from across the United States and even Italy and Brazil. The therapists collaborated and offered genuine support to each other. The Brazilian church members were so generous, kind and willing to serve.
Each of the Brazilian recipients had a beautiful story and were full of joy, regardless of their difficult situation. I loved sharing Joni Eareckson Tada’s story, praying with them, playing with them and most of all, equipping them with wheelchairs tailored for their individual needs. Tada, who became quadriplegic after a diving accident in the 1960s, is an international advocate for people with disabilities and the founder of Joni and Friends International Disability Center.
How were you able to use your skills as an occupational therapist?
The unique aspect of this trip was that I used my skills as an occupational therapist to provide wheelchair fittings. As a wheelchair seating specialist on the trip, I conducted evaluations and asked questions of the individuals to better understand their needs. Based on the evaluations I then selected and modified the wheelchairs. I was surrounded by experienced therapists who provided input as necessary and by mechanics who altered and modified the wheelchairs as needed.
My training as an occupational therapist allowed me to examine the chair for safety, comfort and compatibility with the lifestyle of the recipient. I am profoundly thankful for the culmination of my unique fieldwork experiences and to David Greene, one of my occupational therapy professors, for his instructions that prepared me for this trip.
What did you learn from this experience and how will it benefit you in your occupational therapy career?
My skills as an occupational therapist grew and blossomed and I walked away with increased self-confidence and knowledge which will travel with me as I now begin my full-time career in occupational therapy. In addition to growing as an occupational therapist I learned how to build rapport and connections with individuals across a language barrier. After this experience I have decided to pursue my wheelchair fitting certification.
Also, I learned to ask questions and collaborate with my fellow practitioners. I was inspired by the amount of creativity shown by everyone on the team. I learned how to make items with limited resources, e.g., using pool noodles to assist with proper leg positioning. The mechanics at my station created beautiful anti-tippers for the back of a wheelchair out of a walker and crafted a foot rest out of a walker, a board and vinyl. We worked with a variety of ages from a five year old all the way up to a 98 year old!
Is there anything else that you would like to share about your experience in Brazil?
Joni Eareckson Tada’s story for me was life changing and empowering. I was introduced to her story in high-school and heard of her organization, Joni and Friends’ Wheels for the World, on my final occupational therapy fieldwork placement. Wheels for the World collects donates wheelchairs across the United States and ships them to predetermined correctional facilities where the inmates refurbish and restore the wheelchairs. After restoration, approximately 200 wheelchairs are shipped in a container to the county where the team will be going. Then the wheelchairs are stored until the team members arrive and take the shrink wrap off. It was interesting as we had no idea what kind of wheelchairs would be waiting for us whether they would be specialty or standard chairs.
Not only were we there to provide wheelchairs but the purpose of the trip was to help meet both the physical needs as well as the spiritual needs of the recipients. Volunteers worked in a local host church where community members came to receive these services. After being fitted with a wheelchair each recipient received a Bible and met with someone from their country who shared the Christian gospel message. This was a very significant part of the experience for many recipients. For me it was refreshing to be reminded of this greater purpose.
I am excited as I plan to go on another Joni and Friends trip next year. It was truly a life changing and impacting trip! Anyone who is interested in being a Chair Corp to collect donated wheelchairs in the United States or going on a trip please feel free to contact me at Danielle.Namour@colostate.edu. I would love to talk with you!
Photographs by Mike VerVelde. Used with permission.