Acceptance speech by Huguette Picard, 2006 recipient of the Dr. Helen P. LeVesconte award

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1 Acceptance speech by Huguette Picard, 2006 recipient of the Dr. Helen P. LeVesconte award Madame President, distinguished guests, and dear colleagues, I am deeply touched to be awarded this honour. I thank the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists very sincerely for the recognition which the association is granting me. A career is really made up of many activities in collaboration with many other persons. I would like to recall them and give them recognition. There were those who set an example for me to follow, who taught me to respect the commitment I was making, and who insisted that I always strive to do my best. Those persons were, first, my family, but also all of you occupational therapists, especially those with whom I have worked in the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists, in the Ordre des ergothérapeutes, at the Association of Canadian University Occupational Therapy Programs, in the Canadian Occupational Therapy Foundation, and the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. I would like to give particular thanks to my colleagues at the Université de Montréal. I thank you for your constant support and the gift of your friendship. One does not decide to engage in volunteer activity in order to get recognition. One does it first and foremost to help people or to promote a cause. It is a matter of having a passion for helping people to find the means to take control of their own lives. It is a question of granting them a minimum of power to enrich their lives and helping them find hope. It is a matter of struggling against social exclusion, against loss of dignity, against scorn and prejudice. It is a matter of refusing the arbitrary, and recognizing the freedom of the other. The defence of the rights of individuals or the promotion of a worthy cause are the heart and soul of volunteer action. Such action protects the values of social 1

2 justice, equality, democracy and liberty. It is part of the quest for a society that is humane and mutually supportive. The ingredients of my social and professional commitment are faith in the capacity of people to take action for their own future, combined with a certain audacity, conviction, and perseverance. As the author Micheline Goulet has said, Each one of us needs to give energy freely to something which strengthens our ties to our community. My volunteer activity began when I was confronted for the first time with mental illness as a young graduate in occupational therapy. That contact left me with a desire to struggle to help relieve the problems and the distress that mental illness gives rise to. That is why I chose to follow in the footsteps of those who have invested themselves in the struggle against social exclusion. I have always been proud of my choice of profession. I believe firmly that the notion of occupation is one in which we help individuals find or re-find the ability to act, to create, and to transcend themselves. I came to understand that volunteer activity is as much a dimension of a person s occupation as work, leisure, and the activities of daily living. I noticed, however, that few people had access to our services. The extremely hierarchical model of health care delivery, the perceptions of other professionals who often saw us as people who simply keep patients busy, the lack of research establishing the effectiveness of our interventions, and our small numbers encouraged me to engage in promotion of occupational therapy and to be involved in our professional associations. I have to say that I was not thrilled to transform myself into a charity volunteer making custard to sell at The Royal Victoria Hospital in tombola to raise funds for equipment for our workshops. However, I deeply felt that we could be proud to be occupational therapists. We had our history, our thinkers, our mentors and our heroes. 2

3 In today s society, we cannot rely on heroes. Each of us should play a role in our development. The serious enthusiasm demonstrated by occupational therapists was the sign of a deep conviction. To see occupational therapists invest their knowledge and strength with such dedication encouraged me to persevere in realizing my plans. I felt proud to be part of such an active and generous group. Today I am receiving the Helen P. LeVesconte award for volunteering. However, I would like to share it with the many among you who also give of your time, energy and skills as committee members, members of working groups, consultants, or representatives of our association and those who serve on our Boards of Directors. They do not count the hours, the travel and the efforts they dedicate to the promotion of our profession. Those volunteers join five million Canadians who accomplish a billion hours of volunteer work every year. In addition to this deep commitment, in order for our profession to continue to make progress, we must listen to our clients, and take account of their selfunderstanding and their values. We must consider our clients as individuals, in their complexity and in their uniqueness. Occupational therapists have to grow in the self-discipline of taking responsibility for the ethical decisions which we encounter more and more frequently. We must foster an open-mindedness that gives creativity its proper place and respects diversity of opinion and experience. One thing that gives me a sense of optimism when I consider our future is the strong sense of continuity within our profession. The passage from one generation to the next has taken place harmoniously. There is a climate of respect towards what has been put in place by our pioneers, and there is a desire to make more room for the young. I would like to encourage those of you who are leaders and mentors in our profession, and I see a number 3

4 of you present in the room today, to be volunteers in transmitting the spark of your ideas to the young in order to inspire them. Occupational therapists played an important role in helping those returning from the world wars to re-establish their civilian lives, and we helped victims of the great epidemics such as polio, to find meaningful occupations. I hope that the future will not ask this of us again. I hope that disaster will not prod our development as it has in the past. We have a role to play in making everyone aware that there are alternatives to violence, and that we must be respectful of persons and recognize the importance of human occupation. We must ensure that the opening of our borders to new immigrants includes a respect for their special needs. The immigrant may be a client, but she or he might also be an occupational therapist who has been trained abroad, and is now immersed in a new way of life and confronted with different values. What of that person s identity, self-esteem, integration and adaptation into their work as an occupational therapist. I am well aware that we face a daunting challenge, but I remain absolutely convinced that with the goodwill and support of volunteers, we will find the way to help our society advance toward a peaceful and welcoming world. I hope that each of you feels personally concerned by the urgency of responding to these needs. By responding to them with sincerity and clarity, we ensure that our profession receives positive recognition. It is the duty of all of us to make the voices of the neediest heard at the points of decision. We should ask ourselves how, as members of a professional society, we can work toward consistency between our personal goals, our collective goals, and our commitments as professors at universities, in the clinical milieu, in research, and in service to society. 4

5 We are seeing a growth in poverty, in inequity, and social exclusion in the world today. How can our research and our interventions contribute to make our society more humane? How can our education participate in the training of agents of positive social change? This is the challenge that I wish to present: the challenge of building a better world. 5

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