In the summer of 2018, I had the privilege of spending 4 weeks in Bali on a mental health placement under SLV.Global, a volunteer organization. SLV.Global’s vision resonated with my passion in psychology and I wanted to spend my last summer as an undergraduate reaching out to vulnerable communities. It was a good opportunity to expand my horizons and most importantly, understand how different cultures perceive mental health.
There were approximately 50 volunteers from all over the world – America, UK, Canada, Europe and other parts of Asia. Our first week was dedicated to orientation and training so that we were well-equipped to be activity support workers. At the end of the first week, we spent 2 days at a jungle adventure and it was one of the most unforgettable experiences I’ve had in a while. We enjoyed authentic Balinese food, went water rafting, played games in the mud, and learnt traditional Balinese dances.
Weekends were typically spent travelling and exploring different parts of Bali whereas during the weekdays, we worked hard on our projects. Everyone was arranged to go to different projects during a typical week – I got to work with boys at the orphanage, special needs children, schizophrenic men, as well as adults characterized by a range of mental health issues at the psychiatric facility. Every project had a different aim and volunteers were in charge of planning what a typical session would look like. We spent our Mondays on workshops and planning for all the sessions that we will conduct for the upcoming week. For example, on one session with schizophrenic service users, we engaged them in motor activities to improve their gross motor skills. A simple activity could be reproducing certain geometric shapes (drawn out for them) using pipe cleaners – this encourages motor precision and learning through imitation. Our other projects involved teaching English to children, conducting mood-regulatory activities in the psychiatric ward, and enhancing service users’ sensory stimulation. These projects were difficult as we had to adapt to the number of service users and their differing abilities. However, it gets easier over the weeks as we learn what works and how to be flexible with our resources. All the volunteers in SLV Global had different work experiences prior to the placement and hence, there was a variety of input during session planning. Everyone worked hard to plan and prepare resources for the sessions and it was extremely rewarding at the end of the day. Some service users with severe catatonia had started to gradually produce more movements over several weeks and months. At the end of each project, many service users would thank us, shake our hands and place them on their forehand as a sign of respect. It was incredibly heartwarming to see how our little efforts can go a long way in improving their livelihood and mental health. A huge thank you to the Principal’s Go Abroad Fund for easing the financial burden of funding this trip and making this once-in-a-lifetime experience possible!