Saturday, August 27, 2011

Casablanca, San Marcos

So I am sitting here on a Saturday morning - the rhythm of latin love songs in the background, soft puff of motorbikes and the gentle breeze on my warm skin, with a vista of pure heaven - a bright blue lake like crystal - framed by volcanic mountains and avocado/coffee trees. A local young Guatemalatecos work on the maintenence of a garden of life and another local women freshening up inside the house while I catch up with my emails and blogging. It is pure heaven here and there is plenty of room to stay over should you feel like coming for a visit in the next couple of months!!!! I can hardly believe my luck! So this week has been about settling into the place slowly. I now know the path to buy fresh fruit and veges, I now know my way around the kitchen, I have successfully managed to capture and remove a scorpion that founds its way inside (scary looking things!!). In terms of a routine - perhaps I will start on Monday, I have considered to continue a couple of hours 3 days a week to continue SPanish lessons - but then again I also have heaps of my own Spanish study I could do. I am slowly getting to know the great places to eat around town. I am also getting to know where do people hang out on a Friday and Saturday night? Maybe volunteer at the local Mayan indigenous school in the mornings... Then I really need to find focus for the afternoons for doing more literature review and plus the finalising the report from the NAPA school. And I will find time as well to go for walks and swims to experience the beautiful nature and energy in this area!!! To be continued . . .

Article for OT connections magazine - Discovering the interface of OT and Anthropology discourse

Discovering the interface of OT and Anthropology discourse Antigua, Guatemala

NAPA-OT Field School (18 July – 12 August 2011)

Linda Rylands graduated from the Occupational Therapy program at the University of Queensland (UQ), in 2002. As an OT, Linda specialized in the area of mental health for 5 years. After spending time working and travelling abroad, she returned home to Brisbane in 2006 and joined an innovative and dynamic local network of OT’s: Occupational Opportunities for Refugees and Asylum Seekers ( This progressed to a case management role in a lead settlement service for refugees in Queensland where she was particularly interested in exploring the OT role during refugee settlement. Linda has been humbled by the stories and journeys that she has been privileged to share with families settling in Australia. Currently pursuing a BA of Anthropology, UQ she is now passionate to explore the fusion of Anthropology and OT frameworks in study and practice.

To further the development of this area, Linda successfully applied to join an intensive 4 week field school for July 2011 which included a faculty of 5 from the US and 12 international OT/Anthropology/Public Health students. The field school is a project of the NAPA-OT SIG (Occupational Therapy and Occupational Science Interdisciplinary Special Interest Group within the National Association of the Practice of Anthropology). NAPA ( is a section of the American Anthropological Association (AAA). Faculty includes anthropologists and occupational therapists with credentials in medical anthropology, occupational justice, health care access and human rights, gerontology, child development, disability studies, and public health.

The main vision of the field school is to offer a specialized transdisciplinary applied learning opportunity in the field of OT, anthropology and public health to promote leadership qualities and innovation in this area. The aim is also to collaborate with local projects and needs through Guatemala-based NGO networks. The curriculum consisted of weekly seminars and local guest speakers (e.g. Guatemalan health system in context of history of violence, human rights discourse), applied project work and opportunities for innovative dialogue through discussion groups (e.g exploring concept of “occupational justice” as emerging area in OT and anthropology). One of the 3 areas of Focus area group projects involved a research process (interviews, data analysis and report) with the aim to improve the coordination of surgery referrals to meet needs of local Guatemalan population. This offered the opportunity for individualized mentorship in field methods. In addition, the curriculum included study of Spanish for 9 hours a week and cultural immersion in a homestay with a Guatemalan family.

Interview with Linda:

What motivated you to choose to undertake such a program?

Ever since working as an OT in mental health, I have been driven to question, What is mental health? What is happiness and well-being? By who’s standards? In what context? How does this differ in other cultures? And how do OT’s help? Of course I quickly realized that these are questions with complex answers given the diversity of the human experience. Through my initial anthropological studies I have started to consider, despite this diversity, what are the human universals? And then how does this relate to ‘meaning’ and ‘occupation’.

On my path of discovery, I immersed myself in my work in different contexts (abroad, private, public), attended conferences (e.g. ‘happiness & its causes’). Of course I experimented with my own personal life, for example the value use of money and time and the activities of yoga and dance. I also became very conscious of the power relationships inherent in the ‘therapist-client’ relationship. From this exploration I was not convinced that the OT philosophy (being primarily occupation-centered) fitted with the primarily medical model orientated ‘mental health’ services. There was so much more to it.

I returned home from travelling in 2006 curious about the occupational experience of migrants and refugees settling in Australia. At this time I had the opportunity to attend WFOT 2006 where I was inspired by the OT’s working on a global scale in community development and introduced me to concepts of occupational justice and human rights. I experienced further exposure in my role in the refugee settlement service, through pure immersion in a diverse working environment as well as seeing the innovation and potential of several OT student projects. In addition, with my supervisor being from an anthropology and social work background she shared with me tools for working across cultural and language barriers, considering power dynamics and the continual role as an advocate. It got me thinking, what about the OT and Anthropology interface?

Why did you choose to apply to this particular field school?

After googling OT and Anthropology I found out about the NAPA-OT list serve. I promptly joined and started to receive regular updates about interdisciplinary OT/Anth work. This is how I learnt of the NAPA-OT program for 2010. As far as I knew, this is a unique program that is not offered elsewhere. I wanted to join straight away. I found out about it when I had just returned from a 2 month journey in Africa, and it was also around the same time as WFOT 2010 in Chile. Although I was unable to attend the WFOT conference, I committed to attending the NAPA-OT the following year in July 2011. I applied in December and was informed that I was successful in Jan 2011.

Who else will be participating in the program?

The program is headed by Gelya Frank (Ph. D Anthropology and founding contributor to occupational science), Rachel Hall-Clifford (Medical Anthropologist and Public Health); Nancie Furgang (OT – Pediatrics) and Peggy Perkinson (OT – Gerontology). There were 12 OT/ Anthropology and Public Health students from mostly from the US and also Canada and Holland. I was the sole Australian Ambassador.

What were your expectations of the program?

Other than general life and career inspiration, most of all I was hoping to leave the program with some understanding or frameworks to integrate the professions of OT and Anthropology. I was hoping that this could be the start of a new path where I would make some lifelong connections with people who were passionate in the same areas. In addition I was hoping to understand the academic literature in this area and to benefit from mentoring from those who were pioneers in this area. Perhaps I would like to apply this knowledge to healing traditions globally. All these hopes and more were met by the program.

What did you get out of it that you didn’t expect?

I was really pleased to be part of small research team where we were not only lectured intensively on topics but I also gained some tangible research skills. Working as part of a team of 4 students and mentored through the process, we worked on a compelling relevant topic for the Guatemalan health system and conducted real life research and through a complete phase with an action learning component. I feel like I have walked away not only contributing to building better collaboration between NGO’s focusing on service delivery in health services, but also concrete skills in interviewing, developing a research program, conducting data analysis and collating information into a research report. I also have a deep understanding of the Guatemalan health care context should I get the opportunity to do future projects.

I really enjoyed the challenge of learning a new language along with learning more about the context.

What conceptual learning did you develop?

I learnt that there were not really hard and fast answers in relation to the interface between Anthropology and OT but that these conceptual links had the creative edge of being a work in progress. For example in general Anthropology defines the ‘macro’ with OT looking at more a ‘micro’ lens – thus both need each other to function. While Anthropology can provide a deep lens to look at human diversity and the political and social context, OT frameworks have the confidence to ‘intervene’ and create change on a person or community level. OT was thus described as an ‘optimistic’ profession which is hopeful to inspire positive change. And finally - what is culture anyway? There are many definitions and this was the core of one of our dynamic discussions with the students especially due to the integration of OT and anthropology philosophies. One definition is culture as “sets of competing discourses (ways of thinking about things - meaning) and practices (ways that things are done – occupation) in a field of unequal distribution of power” – Sherry Ortner (Anthropologist). What is interesting about this is the incorporation of meaning and doing but also acknowledging the context of hierarchy and power structures in every society where some ideas or ways of doing are heard or given more power than others.

Would you do something like this again?

Yes, I am full of inspiration and the structured orientation to a culture as well as the learning by doing and applying was a rich and full experience and has added depth to my ability to practice and understand more about the context of many developing nations with government corruption. I encourage anyone interested in this interface to contact me for more information or apply for 2012.

How do you think it will change the way you approach your profession?

This course has reignited my passion in applying occupational frameworks into different areas outside of traditional health delivery. I look forward to applying the research skills that I have learnt to further projects of inquiry into unexplored areas and continue to complete my Anthropology studies. Most likely I will return to working with refugee populations when I return to Australia but also would like to work in the area of support and revitalization of Australian Indigenous culture. The networks that I have developed and mentoring relationships will be lifelong.

Where to from here?

I will be staying in San Marcos, Guatemala for the next 2-3 months to complete and independent study unit for my Anthropology studies – I will be focusing on healing methods in local Mayan contexts and looking further into the literature of OT/Anthropology interface.

In order to present the findings of our NGO project our team have been invited to attend a local conference in Guatemala on 7-9 October called “Beyond Development – Networking Conference” ( where we hope to be part of the dialogue and collaboration of many of the NGO’s working on the ground for health care in Guatemala. The cost is US$75 and would welcome any scholarship or donations to make this a possibility.

Please contact me at or skype: lindarylands12.

For those OTs interested I would like to host a discussion group/ resource sharing time in March 2012. .

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Starting the San Marcos chapter - I live to study!

Thursday 18 August

Omg! What a weekend and the start of a new chapter of exploration. Oh and I actually missed my laptop! Since Monday I travelled, finally to San Marcos.. ‘hippy-ville’ or so it is known. After having a weekend of stressing about where I would move to now that the field school was complete I decided I needed to give myself another week in Antigua to allow things to fall into place. I finally decided to pay rent at the Spanish school homestay for a week while I went off to explore a bit more of Guat

emala to decide on where I would spend my two months of study – reading and writing. I was hoping to find some answers or inspiration on the road from the places I visited. The plan was San Marcos then Xela.

After arriving in San Marcos I dropped my bag at a hostel and quickly started to explore. This is a gorgeous picturesque lake side town, surrounded by volcanoes. There is coffee growing and instead of risk of coconuts falling, you must watch your head for avocados overhead! The place is green, there is only one street for cars and tuk-tuks so it is protected

from so much pollution. And the lake.. well the lake is beautiful!

This is the quote from Lonely Planet “San Marcos has become a magnet for global seekers, who believe the place has a spiritual energy that’s conducive to learning and practicing meditation, holistic therapies, massage, reiki and other spiritually orientated activities”. Yes there were holistic therapies at every turn and also an emphasis on yummy organic foods at some places – like Ganesh- had an amazingly fresh tomato soup and lemon grass tea from the chef who took pride in the fact that each day the menu is freshly printed due to the fresh changing menu. Loved it! Here is where I met with Tim. My god send. A few hours earlier I got the low down of the village from the lady in the 2012 shop. Very friendly, and very honest! She filled me in on ‘opportunistic’ occasional robberies in the past in the main hotel in town (but is totally safe elsewhere) which I had considered taking long term. Kinda scared me off it and the owners awkward style of managing and talking to his staff, kind of turned me off even more. So this is when I got the number for “Tim, the real estate of San Marcos”. He was a friendly German guy, currently in the process of building his dream house with an amazing view of the lake and in middle of Mayan village life. It made me feel straight away that he was the one to solve my housing problema.

“Just tell me what you want, your budget, there are heaps of options, and especially cheap as it is the low season”.

That evening we proceeded to check out some properties in the rain (currently rainy season which is great for study!). The first property stole my heart. I was not able to change my mind once I had seen it! It was all white, kind of Mediterranean with bright blue doors. We walked straight down to the patio with a clear elevated view of the Lake. Beautiful. Despite Tim not having the key with him to see inside in that moment, I could see that the bedroom had double doors opening to the verandah. There was also a fully decked out kitchen down stairs and a gas shower (instead of odd-ball electric shower). And it kind of had this inside-outside design. Will be beautiful when it rains. It is located just a short walk up the hill from the tourist area and bordering on the area of the village. And the best thing was that it was going for half price for rent due to low season. Bargain. Having accommodation sorted made me feel like everything else was so much less hairy and difficult to decide. I could know that I could just set up my books in my room and sit still for a couple of months while I work on these assignments (with one of the best views in the world). So the plan is to get myself sorted and find closure in Antigua and then head straight to San Marcos Monday. From there I can always visit other places that I wanted to see like Xela. And once my Spanish improves I can head further a field or even just check out some of the local village areas.

My second big find was a school of traditional Mayan healing and wisdom. Heading this project named “IXIIM” was Fernando, a bright, talented man full of vision for the children of his village. He also works in construction and built his own school out of natural materials. A man from Switzerland funded him to attend school and university – when I see what this man has achieved I realise how important access to education is for development. This school of Mayan healing and wisdom, included guided walks, yoga, massage and other information. I was fascinated and despite my limited Spanish was inspired and fascinated to learn more. This may also be a base for me to volunteer with the children who come each morning to learn their culture.

Here is video of IXIIM program with the children.. (tba)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

El Postre por Max ultimo noche (dessert for Max's last night)

Restaurant: Meson Panza Verde Antigua -- 6 deserts 1 escargo

With the finish of the NAPA-OT school we needed to celebrate some last nights in Guatemala! This is me with Max and Sarah out - treating ourselves to a fancy restaurant for Max's last night! Sugar lover Max insisted on ordering 6 desserts for the 3 of us.. creme brulee, tirimasu, chocolate, sorbet, etc.. we also ate Escargo.. just because we could!
... and the start of a new chapter

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Journey to Earth Lodge on Back of pick-up truck -Freedom!

After the field school I got to thinking - where am I going to base myself - where it can be quiet enough for me to be able to read and study but not to spend too much money. I started with Earth Lodge - accommodation up in the mountains for tourists - as they were advertising for a receptionist role - 5 hours a day for 6 days a week. Although it was a fun unexpected adventure - I decided that it was just a little to far removed from facilities and was unable to view the room. Plus was told showers were cold!! Great day with the crew anyways!!! Plus the food took forever and was not good - an important factor!

Climbing Volcano Pacaya (25km SE of Antigua)

The day after the NAPA-OT school finishes I go with Sarah V up one of the volcanoes close to Antigua. This was the first time for me climbing a volcano (unfortunately or fortunately there was no lava flowing!). Apparently there was an eruption only last year. People were toasting marshmallows at the summit with some of the steam holes. The Scenery was spectacular with the contrast of bright green grasses and black gravel of the volcano. There were some locals offering horse rides up the volcano for those that got tired! And dogs that followed us all the way - presumably for food!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Final Day FIESTA (and pinata!)

On the final night we were able to let down our hair. Our mentors hosted a wonderful dinner and then we were in for a surprise - a Pinata!!! It was my first time and since I was the second oldest in the group I was the second last to try to hit the Pinata for the treats!! It was hilarious because after being blindfolded and spun I was walking in completely the opposite direction for AGES - everyone was in hysterics! Finally I found it and I was so full of energy but that time I gave it several good wacks- so it was on its last legs by the time it was Max's turn (the oldest student!). We were all Buzzing after the Sangria and the energy of all that we had achieved. I even remember teaching others 'french cricket' with all the energy I had! The night ended with us heading out on the town in Antigua. oh and I got the "Dancing Queen" Award!

Final Presentation of NGO group

The final day! And our Presentation to the student group - as you can imagine we were stoked to finish! Last night we were up till late working on the report document and Rachel informed us that only Friday morning we would have time to write our presentation.

The presentation preparation – we were really focused and worked amazingly as a team to get all of the content together for power point presentation and we didn’t even have TIME to get nervous or think about what we were going to say!

We got some great feedback on our presentation – although it was running way over time, we really had a great sense of ownership over the project and I’m sure that came through.

Spanish Lessons in Antigua

So as part of the program we were required to take part in 3 hour afternoon Spanish classes every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. So my lessons with Vinicio mainly focused on using verbs in the present tense and improving my confidence with conversation and .. just getting me talking. I have been surprised at how quickly I have learnt. Even though I can not get everything that people say (just physically do not have the vocab!) I can usually get the gist and am trying to build my vocab and grammar to express myself. I still maintain the belief that a lot of communication when it comes to trust building is separate from language in common. But I look forward to the day when I can understand what people say to me, be able to respond and ultimately be able to partake in humour in the Spanish. Slowly slowly.. I now need to find myself a good Spanish teacher in San marcos to continue. I try to practice with my homestay family as well but it is not always to get everything and there is always the choice in the moment to interupt the flow of conversation and make it clear that I dont understand or just laugh and nod. I am definitely building more empathy and can now appreciate the value in people correcting me in the moment if I make errors when trying to learn a new language.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

OT students from Guatemala City - a highlight

Wow- was such a pleasure and highlight to meet the group of OT students from a university in Guatemala city. Inspiring to hear about the program here and the links with other OT schools in Central and South America. I even got some links about OT and refugee work in Guatemala so may have time to follow this up some more.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Field Trip to Ecofiltro ( - the solution to world wide water problem?

What a wonderful visit to Ecofilter a ‘for profit’ business that is with a social conscious. These clay filter inventions were founded by Dr. Fernando Mazariegos who was a Guatemalan scientist who was given a grant from the Interamerican Development Bank to find a way to purify water in an effective, ecological and affordable way. In his childhood he had already been exposed to a large traditional clay pot filtration method. The pots were manufactured in a house-like open factory environment and they are made of local clay, sawdust and colloidal silver (a natural anti-bacterial). IT is scientifically proven to capture the bacteria and parasites that lead to gastrointestinal disease. A very important part of the filtration process is that it must drip at a certain rate per hour (1-2 L per hour). The success rate of ending up with the correct texture for drip rate was just more than half which he was transparently concerned about. The business will soon move to a brand new bigger factory in a nearby area. He discussed other ‘inefficiencies’ such as the numbers of steps people took to do their jobs, and the use of the beautiful historic French kilns (to be replaced by gas), and I wonder how with the new factory this increase in ‘efficiency’ would alter the experience of the occupation in the factory. Because efficiency = good business and good for people? What would the new environment be like? Also I was pleased when I saw a soccer field was written into the plans of the new factory with the rationale ‘we want our people to be healthy and happy’. However it is not clear about how long the technology lasts – whether it is 2 or 3 years and how the community would manage this turnover. John (previous CEO from Private Sector seeking meaningful life/work change and experience in business and sales) was an inspiring speaker. I really resonated with this organisation, especially in relation to intestinal problems – and where best to start than with good water and fresh food. IT was interesting the ‘occupation’ aspect of it which of course all the OT’s pricked their ears up at. HE talked about the older man in the village from where the ‘pine sawdust’ (non-native trees), he must have been a potter all his life, and his love to work with his hands. While Mr CEO is expecting and demanding more efficiency by offering to send machinery, the potter just replies that he has no need for machinery, because what is the point when you can no longer use your hands (The OT’s were in heaven!!!). Using the hands as part of the craft is part of the joy and love for the occupation. The CEO is surprised at why a potter would not want to ‘make his job easier’ especially when he comments he would like to clone this particular potter because of the amazing quality work that he does. No one else is quite like him. Imagine how he must be viewed in his community. I wonder who he mentors and if the younger generation of his community are inspired by his work and other lives that he has touched. Would be a very interesting man to meet and explore this life of ‘meaningful occupation’ and ‘success and talent’ in the eyes of a foreign investor. The other area this man could boast was the ability to source only local materials for the pots.

A research project had been completed by his sister in 1991 which compared the health outcomes of communities that did not have the ecofiltro and those that did and those that had it and also an education program. The education program of course includes how to use and look after the filter and I imagine the importance of fresh water. This is delivered by a local women from the community (language abilities?). The filter is able to ward off E.colli. They are also aiming to market the product to the people who use bottled water so they can offer the product to the poor at a lower price. This can be a great addition to other programs that dig wells etc.

This got me thinking about looking towards the future the potential for interdisciplinary work with Anth, OT, Community Development and environmental scientists – be a great combination for creating ‘transdisciplinary dialogue’.

In order to set up these factories in other parts of the world he said that what they would do is first find the potting community! Very interesting… Imagine travelling the world and searching for potting communities to introduce an idea that can bring more money into their lives and potential save the health of children in their community.

How interesting that these reflections about ‘inefficiency’ reflects the Brown Rockerfellar article and seems to reflect the imperialist history of a dependent economy.

‘Health is defined as the capacity to work’ Brown. How are we defining health? Why do we have a ‘health’ system anyway and why is it siloed and separate from ‘social’ systems and religion – because everything is linked anyway. Why did we have to intellectually separate everything?

“If public health is to be an advocate of the interests of the majorities of all peoples, it must not be used to dominate and oppress them.” Brown