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A springboard for career and mission

Graduate student Christine Bolander says Madison's occupational therapy program fulfills her professional and spiritual goals
By Kelley Freund (’07)

Christine Bolander in Uganda

Christine Bolander is working with the Zion Project in Northern Uganda this summer.

Currently in JMU's occupational therapy master's program, Christine Bolander is passionate about her career choice.

Bolander and best friend Brooke Helsabeck, both alums of JMU's Huber Residential Learning Community, are working together on their research thesis which focuses on current rehabilitative methods used with human sex trafficking survivors. Last winter the two attended a conference and learned that of the estimated 27 million slaves in the world today, 80 percent are sex slaves.

At first the girls thought the data for their research was going to be gathered solely from electronic surveys sent out on the Internet. But then two amazing opportunities were presented to them. While Helsabeck is working with LightForce International in San Juan, Costa Rica, Bolander is spending nine weeks this summer interning with the Zion Project in Gulu, Uganda, an organization founded by JMU alum Sarita Hartz ('02) Hendricksen.

Each morning and afternoon Bolander works with Congolese refugee women who were forced into prostitution, brothels and the sex industry due to poverty and lack of other options. Bolander says that through the Zion Project these women are given counseling, mentorship and a new occupation of bead making. In the evenings Bolander works with 17 girls with similar pasts, ages 6-15.

"These girls and women have experienced pasts of desperation and darkness," says Bolander, "but now you don't see the blank, emotionless stares or the raging anger towards the world and every person encountered. You see smiles, you see singing and dancing, you see joy and most importantly you see hope. Their lives are still effected by their pasts, I can see that every day, but they are healing and they have dreams they are fighting for."

Bolander's dream is to do exactly what she is spending the summer in Uganda doing — to become an occupational therapist in a developing country, offering healing and rehabilitation to those with disabilities or traumatic backgrounds. "My desire is to use OT in conjunction with ministry," says Bolander. "I believe that in order for us to experience fullness in life, we have to consider not only our physical, emotional and mental health, but also our spiritual well-being."

Bolander says JMU and the Huber Residential Learning Community opened up opportunities for her to further explore occupational therapy and her role as a healthcare provider in today's society.

She knew what she wanted to do with her life, but it wasn't until a meeting with HRLC Coordinator Dr. Sharon Babcock that her outlook on occupational therapy changed. "Through our discussion I learned a valuable lesson that has served me in my academics, as well as in my therapeutic interactions," says Bolander. "Healing is not simply a donation; healing is mutual. In this relationship the therapist and the patient both have something to give and take. This has framed the way I view occupational therapy. OT is not simply a service, but an interaction."

But perhaps the most important lesson she learned was not about OT or health, but about life in general. "JMU is known for valuing service," says Bolander. "But I believe that it goes beyond that. JMU values people. We encourage relationships, we encourage growth, and as stated in our mission statement we encourage conducting a meaningful life. What I have learned from my years at JMU and through my experience with the Huber Residential Learning Community is that a meaningful life is rooted in giving. It's finding what strengths and gifts we each have and sharing them with others. I have been blessed to have access to areas of the world where there are needs for the knowledge occupational therapists possess, and I have been deeply enriched by these interactions."