Isabelle Maher— Ohio
Ohio, USA

I stumbled upon the VACorps website while google searching for summer internships and instantly fell in love with the idea of coming to Cape Town for an occupational therapy internship, as it is tough to find OT internships without a complete degree. This opportunity combined my passions for traveling, experiencing new cultures, meeting new people, occupational therapy, and most importantly working with children with disabilities.

My time at my internship site has been nothing short of amazing. My mornings at a local school where I interned were full of hugs and love from countless kiddos. After only a week of being there and shadowing, I was given my own children to see and have my own therapy sessions with the children. One of my biggest accomplishments has been working one on one with the children and getting to run my own sessions. I learned through observing a session with the OT working with a child with cerebral palsy. The child is in a wheelchair and was not getting enough one on one attention from therapists because of how many children there are to see and lack of time. I observed as the occupational therapists ran a session full of stretching the muscles that she normally did not use while sitting in a wheelchair all day. After that, she ran various activities with the child to work on strengthening different areas of development including gross and fine motor skills as well as coordination. After observing, the next day I began my own sessions with the child. Although I was a bit overwhelmed about the responsibility of lifting and moving the child on my own, I knew I had the abilities and knowledge to run a great session. I felt extremely accomplished just after running one session by myself, going through all the different stretches I was taught and coming up with creative activities to help with various areas of development. Throughout the session, the look on the child’s face made me realize that what I was doing was making a difference. No money or objects can replace the look of joy on a child’s face that you helped create. After painting a butterfly at the end, I returned her to her classroom and she immediately asked “when will you get me again?”, and in this moment my heart was full. I couldn’t wait to see her again. Throughout the next 2 weeks, I continued to stretch and do therapy with her as much as possible. I loved every moment with her and strengthening a relationship with her. Seeing her smiling face has made every moment so worth it and amazing. Working with her and seeing her improve has been one of my biggest accomplishments. Another favorite time of mine was running group therapy sessions and using the older students to help with the kids. It is amazing to see how well they work with the little ones. Walking outside during break time was one of my favorite times, I was always attacked by kiddos giving hugs and just wanting some love and attention. Many of my afternoons consisted of playing basketball with the teenage boys, and one of the best moments was making a basket and gaining their respect. I have been so happy that my experience has been so hands-on and I have learned so much that I will use in the future. Not only have I learned a lot of occupational therapy skills, but I have learned so much about the culture. The way the school is run is so different than at home and it has been amazing to get to learn about the academics and teaching in Gugulethu. My first and last days at this school were full of emotion and tears from the love I felt while there. My internship site will always have a very special place in my heart and I am already thinking about when I will be able to return.

My 12 weeks in Cape Town flew by and I wish I could go back and do it all over again. I have dreaded sitting in the office and completing my final reflection, I never thought the time would come. I have never felt as alive as I have in South Africa. My time in South Africa has absolutely been the best months of my life. Every moment has been better than I could have ever imagined. I absolutely love Cape Town and everything that goes along with it. Throughout these two months, I have been able to do more than I ever thought including surfing, scuba diving, hiking, beaching, and exploring various markets and eaten some of the best food ever. Cape Town has so much to offer, and I love that I have never been bored and always have a new area to explore. The beauty of Cape Town in incomparable to any other place I have ever been. One moment you can be in the mountains hiking with insane views of Cape Town below, the next moment you can be on the beach in Camps Bay enjoying the sunset with the mountains behind you. If you are an adrenaline junkie, Cape Town is for you. Anything from paragliding, skydiving, scuba diving, or jumping off the highest bungee jump in the world, all in South Africa. More important than any activity is the friendships and memories that I have created while in Cape Town. People here are so open to meeting new people and are easy to connect with. The diverse group of people I have bonded in Cape Town will always be close to my heart.

The VACorps staff has been absolutely incredible every second of my time here. My program advisor, Carmen, made this experience incredible. The staff was always there to assist me in any way that I needed and always excited to help. The activities every Friday were an amazing way to bond with the other interns and staff members. Some of my favorites were the Braai at Mama Sulis, Cape Point and surfing in Muizenberg. The bond I have formed with the staff is indescribable and I look forward to coming back to visit them as soon as possible. I could not be happier with the VACorps program as a whole, my internship experience, and the staff members.

By the end of my time here, I can honestly say I feel like a “Capetonian”. I will miss the beauty, culture, and people the most. I have made some of the best memories and relationships in Cape Town that I know will last forever. Thank you for the time of my life Cape Town and VACorps, I promise I will be back soon. Until next time South Africa, I love you.

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