On a recent visit to an orphanage in Azerbaijan, occupational therapist Mary-Margaret "Missy" Brigida Windsor '68, '76G was taken to see a severely disabled 10-year-old girl who was curled into a fetal position. The size of a 3-year-old, the girl did little more than cry all day, and the staff didn't know how to help her.
As staff members watched, Windsor made eye contact with the girl while gently massaging and stretching out her muscles to reposition her body. She then placed a toy in girl's hands, eliciting a smile. "This girl had been left alone because of lack of staff and lack of knowledge," says Windsor, who since 1995 has worked on humanitarian missions that help orphaned and institutionalized children.
Windsor's first mission took her to post-Soviet Romania six years after the horrific conditions in orphanages there came to light. Part of a group of graduate students, she visited orphanages near Bucharest, where they encountered hundreds of silent children suffering from severe emotional and physical deprivation.
"I knew the kids had problems that OT could help," says Windsor. The group focused on the traumatized children's basic needs, helping them to reconnect to their own bodies and begin to respond to their environment. They trained the orphanage staff in OT techniques and showed them that children with disabilities have potential and a need for human bonding.
The desire to communicate, and the need for joy and a sense of purpose are inherent to all humans, according to Windsor. "A good therapy session involves interaction, purpose and meaning through some activity, whether it's play, bathing, eating or learning," she explains.
In Romania, Windsor met Jane Aronson, a pediatric doctor and president of Worldwide Orphans Foundation. Aronson invited Windsor to train staff in St. Petersburg, Russia, in early-intervention techniques to treat institutionalized children. Since then Windsor has taken part in missions to Azerbaijan, China, Russia, Ecuador and Kenya. She works with children, trains staff and connects the institutions to networks that offer OT training and medical services. Recently her role has grown to include needs assessments of new sites to help determine the level of WWO's engagement.
Windsor says her work abroad allows her to give back, and calls occupational therapy "an agent of hope and opportunities." She feels fortunate that her profession allows her to make children's lives better. With all the world's suffering, Windsor says her work is "a drop in the bucket," yet she feels she can be of help, one child's smile at a time. "The big things happen," she says, "because many people do a lot of little things."Return to UNH Magazine Alumni Profiles