Judy Freeman, Occupational Therapy, class of 2018
What did you study at University of Cumbria and why did you pick this course?
I studied occupational therapy and was lucky enough to get accepted onto the accelerated course which meant an incredible two years of intense learning. As I had already done four years of study elsewhere, I was keen to learn quickly and get back to working as soon as I could.
I chose occupational therapy because I was sure I wanted to work in healthcare. I had a previous degree, and had embarked on a career in international development, and during my work placements in Africa and Asia, I became increasingly interested in healthcare and how essentially it was the foundation on which thriving communities are built. I was then lucky enough to meet an occupational therapist while I was in Cambodia, who spoke so passionately about their work. I particularly loved the holistic approach that occupational therapy takes, and it's versality across physical and mental healthcare.
How has your course helped your employability skills and prospects?
Aside from the obvious (the occupational therapy clinical skills), I felt this course really helped me improve my attention to detail as that is an essential skill when completing occupational therapy assessments. This has not only helped me in the clinical roles that I have gone on to have since graduation, but has also helped me to become a better problem-solver and critical thinker. This really helped me in my first role after graduation, where I had the mammoth task of setting up an occupational therapy service within a care home. By ability to focus on the smaller details really helped me make a fairly robust service across physical and mental health.
I also gained research skills as part of my course which is a really helpful skill not only for your own continued professional development, but also to support and meaningfully contribute to service development and also conduct small-scale research projects that serve as a tool for advocacy or to highlight needs in a service or service user population.
How has your course changed or informed your plans/approach to self employment or employability?
I suppose I went into the course thinking that I was going to emerge an occupational therapist only; which I did. However, I hadn't accounted for all the transferrable skills that I would pick up, and a real interest in advocating for occupational therapy (and other health professions perhaps side lined by the medical model) and a strengthened passion for addressing health inequality. Occupational therapy is wonderful because it looks at all the needs of an individual and what is meaningful for them in their lives. Together with my previous work in international development, I was even more aware of how things like poverty, disenfranchisement, education, disability, culture, gender and sexuality all play a part in our occupations and how our health and well-being may be negatively affected by some of these things because of the society that we live in. I knew I wanted to be a clinician, but that I also wanted to be part of addressing this inequality.
Tell us about your business, what is the name, when did it start and what do you sell/provide?
It is called Maisha Outreach Therapy Organisation, or MOTO for short. The name has Kiswahili roots. "Maisha" means life, and MOTO means fire. The idea being that our work helps to ignite the "moto wa maisha" or "fire of life" for the people we aim to support. We are a tiny non-government organisation (NGO) that works in the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania. We aim to support improved access and quality of rehabilitation therapies (mainly occupational therapy and physiotherapy presently). We also support greater understanding of disability and long-term conditions, as there is a lot of stigma surrounding this in Tanzania and many other countries.
MOTO started in 2017 after one of my lectures. I had left Tanzania in 2014, but it is my favourite place in the world. I have East African roots, and I had worked there for a year, it had felt like home. It occurred to me that I could bring together my love for Tanzania, health equality and occupational therapy into one bundle. A bit of research showed me that there was not much provision of rehabilitation therapies in Tanzania, and not many NGOs focusing on this. It just took off from there.
Find out more about MOTO and Judy’s work here:
https://mototanzania.org/ (old website)
https://www.maishaot.org/ (new website, will be fully launched soon)
Who is involved in the running and development of your business?
Primarily it is myself and my friend Johnson Dickson, who is based in Tanzania. We worked together in 2014 and remained friends since. We both work as volunteers currently so we are always juggling a million things but somehow we get stuff done!
However, we have had a lot of support along the way, including our co-founder, Laura Boothby who helped us launch our pilot project which was actually in Malawi first (another place I have worked). We have had various other short-term volunteers along the way too.
Who are your target customers?
We aim to support people with disabilities and long-term conditions, and their carers. They often do not have access to the therapies that they need which often means a very restricted and uncomfortable life. For example, people may only receive a couple of days rehabilitation in hospital after a stroke, and then may be sent home with no assistive equipment that they may need which can be very dangerous and also rob people of their dignity and independence.
In addition, disability and long-term conditions have wider implications on things like livelihood and education. It may prevent ability to attend work or school (either due to functional needs or stigma) which can cause a pretty rapid cycle in poverty. Also, often women and girls are in charge of caring for family members, and they may be pulled out of school or work to do this - it is a gender equality issue too.
How is your business developing, have you secured any major customers or contracts?
It has been slow, but this is to be expected. It is quite a challenging time to run a small charity, especially during the pandemic when majority of funding was diverted to COVID related projects. It is also hard to juggle with full-time work!
However, we seem to be gaining momentum now. We have some excellent partner organisations, and were asked by the Ministry of Health to contribute to Tanzania's first ever Rehabilitation Strategy which was really exciting!
What are you most proud of?
I am very proud of our small-scale research project - which is yet to be available to the public. It was a huge team effort, and the information we gathered really proves that our instincts were right - this service is much needed and can make serious positive change.
What are your aspirations for the future of your business?
We have so many aspirations! One day we would like to have our own outreach clinic which provides therapy services for people in their own home. However, Johnson always encourages me to dream even bigger, so I will say that I would like MOTO to be running services in multiple countries!
What is your advice for anyone looking to start their own business?
This is going to be horribly generic, but you have to believe in it and yourself. That's what gets you through the really hard times. There were a couple of times during the pandemic when I was working very long ward hours with the NHS and really had to stop and think whether having this extra workload was a good idea. Turns out there was not even 1% of me that would give up MOTO, but if I didn't have that belief in what we are doing, that would have been the end.
If anyone is interested in what we are doing, please just get in touch!
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