In February I was fortunate enough to undertake a visit to Palm Island with SOS Health Foundation. My trip was with the purpose to explore how a sustainable OT model could be supported on the island. I was lucky enough to meet with a number of residents, visiting their home to complete work a previous OT volunteer had commenced, and looked at running groups for ladies at the local shelter. As an OT, group work runs through my blood and not only was I able to enjoy some art and craft with the ladies I was able to lead a relaxation group for them.
Engaging in an occupation such as art can break down cultural or language barriers and enable all to come together to work towards a common leisure goal. I was reminded of the strength of group processes and the value of meaningful participation. For these ladies it was an opportunity to feel safe and relaxed in an environment where they could achieve an activity in comfort and with confidence. Something for them that was not a common part of their previous experience.
With the SOS volunteer manager Shanta Parker, we were able to develop a fledgling model for Occupational Therapy on Palm Island, a model where group work remains consistent for mental health and wellbeing and one to one work for home support or modification is enabled. Providing OT in a respectful and purposeful manner while acknowledging the transitory nature of a volunteer role remains key for the residents where trauma and distress is the foundation of their community.
Palm Island welcomed me and accepted the support I was able to offer. As an OT I was able to use the professions innate skills of engaging with the environment, of working with a person’s strengths and of being adaptable. This is a core set of skills drawn from our OT models and theoretical underpinnings which all OTs regardless of current area of practice can draw on to engage in a volunteer role.