One day during a whirlwind week in Guatemala, 11 occupational therapy students trekked to the local dump in Antigua to witness a cultural phenomenon of poverty. As the dump trucks drove in, adults and children swarmed around, pawing through the smelly filth, looking for bits and pieces to salvage and sell. “The garbage reeks, and they live in this environment,” says Carol Scheerer, chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy. “They have a high incidence of respiratory ailments, and their kids have a high incidence of mental retardation from the toxic environment.”
It was the kids that drew Scheerer and her students to the country, where they spent a week working with caregivers of children living in four orphanages. The children benefited from the extra care they received from Xavier’s students, who benefited by being able to practice case assessments and therapy plans.
The trip is symbolic of how far Xavier’s youngest program has come. It now has a waiting list as freshman enrollment topped its 40-student capacity. Xavier requires OT students to complete a service learning project during the five-and-a-half year program that awards both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. “We’re helping give a voice to those who are voiceless, fighting for social justice and standing up for marginalized populations,” Scheerer says.