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You don’t have to be a surgeon to save lives


Thanks to Afya’s Occupational Therapy interns, any individual with a passion to serve can participate in our mission.

April 12, 2021

By: Marissa Roberge

The Afya Foundation is an unstoppable force in the realm of disaster relief and, thanks to Afya’s Occupational Therapy interns, any individual with a passion to serve can participate in our mission to improve global health and empower local communities around the world. 

When founder and CEO, Danielle Butin, started the organization in 2008 she wanted to make sure that volunteering with Afya was accessible to all. She knew that participating in altruistic activities is good for mental health, and yet so many people are prevented from having these experiences due to disability or life challenges. Butin tapped into her background as an occupational therapist and connected with former colleague Pam Miller, the Occupational Therapy Fieldwork Coordinator at Columbia University. Together they started what would become Afya’s Occupational Therapy Student Internship program. 

Afya hosts up to 12 Master’s level Occupational Therapy (OT) students each semester for a 12-week clinical rotation. The program combines clinical experience for OT students, non-traditional therapies for volunteers and an altruistic environment. It’s what Butin calls a circle of giving where by giving to others you are giving to yourself. 

“It is an emboldening experience that allows volunteers to practice life skills while knowing that their hard work is changing people’s lives abroad,” she says.

What sets the program at Afya apart is its focus on identifying clients’ strengths rather than their weaknesses. Strength is then the foundation of skills building. Afya’s OT interns develop relationships with volunteers and work on building their social skills, job readiness, and independent living skills all while working together to sort, label and pack medical supplies. Today, thirty community-based organizations and schools that serve people with disabilities throughout the Greater New York area turn to Afya for community service activities. 

We sat down with some of our interns to learn about their thoughts on the program.

Ann Claire Macalintal is a second year master’s student at Jefferson University. Macalintal says that working with Afya has shown her how volunteering can change someone’s life. “Volunteering at Afya has resulted in a lot of life skills that [clients can] transfer into their homes and into their future jobs. But volunteering has also brought new meaning to people’s lives,” she says. Macalintal also notes that having a sense of community is essential for vulnerable populations. “By volunteering with Afya, [clients are] getting reminded every day [that they] are part of a community,” she says.

Carley Quirin is a second year master’s student at Columbia University. When she was considering her mental health placement she was looking for unconventional sites. When she discovered Afya, she knew it was the perfect fit. “A lot of the mental health facilities I was looking at were long term facilities. And I liked that Afya was a stepping stone on someone’s mental health journey rather than being the last stop,” says Quirin.

Afya’s volunteer program was just the beginning for Jimmy Kuang. Kuang started volunteering with the assistance of an OT in August 2016. Kuang is a Special Olympic athlete and he says that he was nervous when he first came to the warehouse until he saw his Special Olympic teammates volunteering as well. Less than a year later, Kuang felt comfortable and welcomed, and made himself an indispensable member of the team. He was hired as a Warehouse Associate in January 2017 and has been with the organization ever since. When asked to describe what it is like to work at Afya, Kuang used the words blessed, thankful and teamwork. 

As Butin likes to remind her staff: you don’t have to be a surgeon to save lives. Afya’s occupational therapy interns are not only improving the lives of their clients, but together interns and clients are saving lives around the world by preparing lifesaving medical supplies for shipment.

Check out Afya’s social media this Occupational Therapy Month for more about our OTs and the volunteers that they support!