Skip to main content
  • News
  • Occupational therapy students headed to Africa to assist rehabilitation clinic

Occupational therapy students headed to Africa to assist rehabilitation clinic

Occupational therapy graduate students at the University of Utah College of Health are dedicated to making lives better. So dedicated that five of them are traveling 5,000 miles on their own dime to help out a rehabilitation clinic in Morocco.

The students -- McCall Halvorson, Kenzie Smith, Lexi Sybrowsky, Lindsey Ward and Caitlin Winters -- will be doing field work at the Moulay Ali Institute for Rehabilitation (MAIR) in Marrakech for two weeks in October. They will assess the need for occupational therapy services there and design a program to help provide them. 

The assignment calls for each student to develop a separate part of the program, such as curriculum related to cognition or to children with autism. They will conduct a needs assessment, identify available resources, gather data from literature on the topic, determine overall goals and evaluate funding options. 

The not-for-profit MAIR was co-founded in 2015 by neuroscientist Mo Sbai, an adjunct professor at the University of Utah School of Medicine and a native of Morocco, with money from fundraising events and grants from the Rotary Foundation and the Sorenson Legacy Foundation.

The MAIR clinic provides services to children and adults with cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain and other neurological conditions. About 70 percent of patients are treated for free because they can’t afford to pay.

With its range of treatments and services, the neuro-rehabilitation facility is the only one of its kind in the north African country, according to Sbai.

“The stuff that they are doing, the way they are doing it, it’s unique in Morocco,” he said.

Sbai plans to use the students’ occupational therapy-based program proposal in creating a curriculum for a neuro-rehabilitation certification for Moroccan therapists. He also will include contributions from speech therapists, social workers, neurologists and others to give therapists a wide range of expertise.

The occupational therapy students are tackling the assignment even before their flight takes off. The university contingent met by teleconference with MAIR physical therapists Imane Bentahar, Sofia Berrada and Chaimae El Ghazi on Sept. 17 to talk about the clinic’s needs. 

“Our big goal is to help you with whatever type of training you feel like you might need,” Winters told the trio.

MAIR now occupies a 2,800-square-feet space and Sbai wants to build a bigger facility so the clinic can hire more therapists and treat more patients. The clinic serves 18 to 25 patients a day and has a long waiting list, he said. 

“We’re just scratching the surface,” Sbai said of the need for MAIR’s services.

The clinic is named after Sbai’s brother, Moulay Ali Sbai, who died several years after he suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car crash. Sbai said his brother was unable to get the kind of long-term medical care he needed in Morocco, which led to his 2007 death.