The work story…

This is a bit of an FAQ item, so I’m putting it all down here for reference purposes.

Anri-Louise, my South African OT friend and now boss/colleague/housemate, established Growing the Nations Therapy Programs (GTNP) a while back, and they now employ about 6 Malagasy staff, some being therapy assistants and some admin people. Being entirely funded by personal donations, finances are often hairy, but she manages to pay her staff somehow most of the time (paying herself is not yet a thing). GTNP runs a number of OT projects, ranging from working at an old age home, some schools and a children’s home, to clinics at several hospitals. Volunteer OT’s from overseas staff these some of the time, and these projects are where the OT students do their practicals. So officially, I’m a volunteer with GTNP, lent to the University of Antananarivo for OT school purposes. I cannot begin to explain the political minutiae and variety of players concerned in this arrangement, mostly because I don’t understand them, but so far simply doing whatever Anri tells me is working just fine.

UA is an eye-opener. Bare-bones classrooms, teaching days that begin sometimes at 7:30 and end at 5:30 – and students that come to all of those classes and somehow seem to stay awake. No residences, no internet. A library (uncatalogued) that closes at 5. No electronic resources. Students pay no fees, and the government gives most of them a small living allowance (at some point). They must pay for everything along the way – photocopies, internet access (we post all our lectures on a Facebook group). No-one buys books.

Then there are the lecturers. For everyone who was horrified to hear I’d be expected to teach but perhaps only get paid in a year’s time, this is not a special take-advantage-of-the-stupid-foreigner deal. This is how it is for everyone. People who lecture at UA don’t do it for income (they generally need to hold down at least one other job for that), they do it because they want to develop their country. The Vice-Dean of the medical faculty has three jobs: this one, his orthopaedic practice, and the directorship of a hospital. And this is not about drawing multiple salaries – in fact, he may only get paid for one of them.

I can work with this.

And the students? Our classes are small, 10 in second year (L2) and 9 in third year (L3). First-years do a core curriculum with only a small amount of OT, and must compete for the ten places in L2. Academic ability varies, all are very second-language French speakers (at least I’m not alone), but most of them are delightful, at least most of the time. The L2 curriculum has mostly been prepared during 2016, but L3 is being made up as we go along. This week I began a new subject (decreed by UA) called “Techniques et outils de l’education therapeutique en ergotherapie” which neither of us had ever heard of. But I’ve managed to teach 12 hours of it so far, and devised a cracker of a subject outline, and now we can’t believe we didn’t do it at home. This is how we roll…

Teaching is fascinating. The culture here is not one for questions or discussion, and learning is pretty chalk-and-talk (with actual chalk), so I suspect they are a little alarmed at first by being required to do stuff in class. But they take to it pretty well, and tolerate their odd vazaha (foreigner) lecturers, and there are goose-bump moments when you can see that they really get it. And we get a little teary, and stop minding for the moment about their abysmal time management and carelessness with our precious foam stocks and minimal approach to self-study. Anri and I have endless pedagogical discussions (a whole new interest) and I’m beginning to catch her philosophy on the bigger project of OT in Madagascar. And it’s very, very exciting.




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