Gannon University Occupational Therapy Class Travels to Ecuador

Posted: July 9, 2013

Erie, Pa. - Necessity, it is said, is the mother of invention, but for a group of 12 occupational therapists who traveled to Ecuador on an Alternative Break Service Trip this spring, Lynne Oberle, was certainly the godmother.

Oberle, an instructor in Gannon University's occupational therapy (OT) program, took a group of nine students and professional occupational therapist from Erie's Shriner's Hospital to the South American nation for an educational experience that was literally hands-on.

"New federal guidelines and privacy rules built into the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) meant that my fourth-year senior students could no longer directly work with pediatric patients," Oberle says. "They were limited to observing, an that wasn't meeting their needs."

Service learning is one of the foundations of a Gannon education, but so is global citizenship. Undaunted, Oberle explored opportunities for her students to do some good where they were most needed, a quest that started two years ago and took her group 3000 miles from Erie to a place called Camp Hope.

"It's an orphanage where children go for the day, and many of them had disabilities," Oberle said. Under her guidance, the students did wheelchair evaluations and fittings, feeding evaluations and even taught the staff new methods to feed the children safely.

"We revised their program and taught new techniques," She added. One of those techniques transformed the camp's sensory depravation room into a sensory integration room.

It was a project that was tailor-made for Allison Blakely, who transferred to Gannon from the Kent State University after first attending the Cleveland Institute of Art.

"This is a space to help children cope with things they easily get overwhelmed by - the sun, noise, anything," she said of the room. "I was sort of the art director of the project, so I painted a mural. I wanted cool colors, navy blue, with constellations on one wall. On the other wall, there were waves and dolphins, and we put in a blue light that calmed it more. We used found objects from around the orphanage, and we did this within 36 hours, start to finish."

At the end of the day, Oberle would review with her students the methods and practices that they had used. "Every night from 8 p.m. until ten, we'd sit on the verandah and have classroom time, discussing different evals that we used-- muscle tone, feeding protocols-anything pertinent to the students in what they saw and did that day. That was amazing to see how my students could process all this information and the hands-on techniques they'd been taught. It was taking book knowledge and putting it into practice."