Hi everybody, and welcome to another update from South America. To even try and begin to describe the experiences of the last few days would simply take hours, so here is an attempt to try and summarise the 'Conception' experience.
After receiving hospitality from strangers in both Romania and Vietnam, as people took me into their homes and treated me like family, my perceptions about having an open mind to unfamiliar people and situations has changed dramatically. The past few days I have experienced more examples of unconditional kindness... so let me begin.
After managing to finally break free from Santiago's warm grasp and ever open invitations for drinks, I got my 6-7 hour bus to 'Conception' - home of the 8.8 earthquake that hit Chile in February. Having made my way to the centre (centro) with the aid of a local bus, I found myself in a pickle! Of the hostels listed in my book, all but one were virtually piles of rubble. The only one I had been able to find, down a darkened corridor, clearly in a residential apartment building, was full! The very nice lady there could sense my distress, and quickly got on the phone to her friend (Vicky), who for a quite reasonable price, offered a room in her apartment for the night. It was just round the corner, and the thought of staying in my own room, a comfy bed and chats with a local family released any concerns I had. Ok, so my lack of any understandable Spanish could have been a problem, but with new found optimism, and my new found language (Spanglish!) I headed to Vicky's place.
I was soon to catch up with the wonderful students from the University of San Sebastian, and one of them (Andrea) was able to meet me that same evening to make some plans for the next few days. We went to buy her granny a birthday present (pink slippers - they were nice!) before her very kind boyfriend Milto gave us an evening tour of the city! As I was getting ready for bed, my mobile rang, with an invitation to join Andrea's family for granny's birthday! I wasn't able to make the party, but the very next day I was invited to Andrea's home for lunch, which soon turned into a 3 night stay! The scene greeting me at Andrea's home was a welcoming sight as we sat around watching a football game on TV before the most fantastic food arrived and just kept on coming. After getting used to a backpacker's diet, this was like a royal feast for me!
After dinner, we were discussing the affect of the earthquake here, when Andrea's brother offered to drive me around the badly hit area of Talcahuano, which was hit by a tsunami BEFORE the earthquake came! Seeing these scenes of devastation, just 3 months after the event really reminded us of the fragility of life, and yet people continued to get on with life as best they could. Just to put things in perspective for you, a police imposed curfew was set up to prevent looting, and some people were forced to wash in local lakes directly after the events in February. Here are some pictures from the area.
The next day I traveled with students into the University to discuss having a look around. The staff were very receptive to having me give a lecture the following day to their students, so a plan was hatched!
In the meantime I didn't want to waste any time, and some very kind students made some calls on my behalf, which allowed me to go and visit a regional children´s Therapy centre called 'Teleton'. This centre was funded by the Chilean version of 'Children in Need', where on one day of the year there is a national fundraising project! The facility allowed children with physical or cognitive impairments to access physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy, and a wide range of other health and educational services. Despite being privately funded, the access to the centres (based all over the country), was open to all people, via some kind of 'means test' to assess a need for financial contribution. This centre also catered for children needing artificial limbs and other prosthetic and orthotic devices. See the pictures below for an idea of the wonderfully engaging and stimulating environments they had for the children. Oh I must mention one thing, whilst we were visiting the centre, there was a 'little' earthquake registering 5.1... and I really did feel it this time, even though it only lasted for just a few seconds. The experience was unsettling on many levels!
The following day (Tuesday), I returned to the University to give my presentation, but also to spend time with the staff and students from the Occupational Therapy course. I met a student who had just finished a 'craft' activity workshop where they had been learning techniques to produce goods from leather... see the pictures below.
OT studies here in Chile currently run to 5 years, with the last year consisting of mainly practice. They have the theoretical content in the course as you'd expect, but they also seem to have a very practical activity focus too. I even sat in one class, that I presumed was to develop awareness of the biological and social links between family members, as the students were being asked to identify three generations of a family tree. An interesting task I thought! Staff in both Universities I have met have appeared very forward thinking, and keen to engage in new and innovative ways of learning and teaching, the students also appear very positive about the subject of OT and this lends to positive learning experiences for all.
My presentation, entailed a lecture room full of students and staff, and me stood at the front with a microphone, that made me feel like doing a karaoke number! ( Luckily I had been out with Andrea and her very talented brothers to a karaoke bar the night before!) You know me so I don´t need to show too many pictures of me presenting, but here you are...
My close friends and students, Pepe, Vanesa and Andrea took me for a Chinese meal that evening, (courtesy of the University) which was a lovely end to my few days with the people here. I even got an invite to quickly meet Vanesa´s mom, despite it being close to 12am!
Though as it happened, I was aksed to perform one more task before I left - A breakfast 0830 meeting with the Faculty Dean, and the therapy staff. It was a lovely touch, and we had some quite thought provoking discussions. If any UK universities are reading this, get in touch because people here are very interested in making international partnerships! See pictures below...
So I could say so much more... the karaoke and salsa dancing with the Sato Family, the fact that at the University cafeteria (Casino) they will serve milk with coffee, but not with tea, or the fact that for some reason the toilet paper holder is situated outside of the toilet cubicle.. (beware that one!) To conclude all I can possibly say is the biggest thanks to the Sato family, Pepe, Vanesa, Pamela, Claudia, staff at the university and Teleton for opening up your homes, work, life and experiences to a traveling OT! No guidebook can direct you to this kind of experience!
Regards from Conception