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Sarah Newborn (right) and her supervisor in front of mural at the arts center

OTD Alumna Changes Outcomes for Refugee Population in Greece

“My goal as an occupational therapist is to be a change agent at the community level by designing and implementing culturally competent, occupational therapy-based programs for vulnerable populations, whether in the U.S. or abroad. As part of my Global Health Certificate through Pitt Public Health, I completed an internship in Athens, Greece, where I utilized the skills from my OTD. I partnered with a local ministry called Hard Places Community located in the Victoria neighborhood in Athens. The ministry serves the local refugee population by providing free laundry services, English classes, restorative arts programs and more to re-establish dignity among the population.  

During my internship, I met the immediate hands-on needs of the community. I taught English in the red-light district, tutored the refugee staff in their American online high school classes and provided restorative art interventions for children in the park. Additionally, I completed a Community Profile and a Needs Assessment while onsite. My experience at my Pitt OT doctoral site taught me that programs can be designed virtually. I worked tirelessly to complete two programs off-site both in Greece and when I was back in the U.S. I took my education in my school-based Level 2 fieldwork and knowledge of the developmental milestones to create an occupational therapy-based, four-tiered, fine motor program that teaches children and adults who may not have ever written before, how to write the English alphabet. The second program is a restorative, PTSD and trauma healing program based on my personal experience of recovering from trauma, the polyvagal theory and sensory interventions. 

I expected to be able to separate myself from the public health crisis in Athens and complete my internships without an emotional attachment, but that was not the case. Greece and the Afghan and Iranian friends I made there restored my heart and fearlessness in my life in so many ways. The way they loved and provided for me healed me of some of my own acute trauma symptoms that I was recovering from. I am continuing to learn Farci and will hopefully be working to resettle an Afghan family in the Idaho Falls area, where I currently work at a state-of-the-art facility as an outpatient pediatric and school-based clinician. One of my favorite quotes is from the BBC show Poldark: 'You cannot fight all the world. You can only make your own small corner a fairer place.' I am determined to make my own small corner of the world a better place, whether that be Pittsburgh, Athens or Idaho Falls.”