Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy

The Koru Unfurls: The Emergence of Diversity in Occupational Therapy Thought and Action

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy

The Koru Unfurls: The Emergence of Diversity in Occupational Therapy Thought and Action

Article excerpt


This article explores the issue of diversity, first from a global perspective and then within the discipline of occupational therapy. Particular foci are the emergent diversity in occupational therapy theory, research, and finally in practice developments. Two symbols, meaningful in Aotearoa (New Zealand) are used as motifs throughout: the koru, capturing the potential of diversity in occupational therapy and the wero, or challenge that the profession faces in more fully embracing diversity in the future.

Key words

Diversity, sustainability, methodologies, epistemology

Whiteford, G. (2007). The Korn unfurls: The emergence of diversity in occupational therapy thought and action. New Zealand journal of Occupational Therapy, 54(1), 21-25


This article is based on two significant symbols: the koru, with its many small parts combining to make one whole, as a symbol of unity through diversity and transformative potential and the wero, the challenge, which occupational therapy must rise to in order to enact its potential to more fully serve the occupational needs of society. Before going further, I want to recount an experience I had a long time ago that was an epiphany for me. It was about understanding human potential, which is what I think we enable when we embrace diversity: we create the conditions in which people can fully be, do and become.

When I was in my final years of high school my parents lived in Arnhem Land, a remote part of the Northern Territory of Australia. It was a closed indigenous community and my father worked there as a teacher. One weekend he forwarded to me an invitation from some of the aboriginal women to 'go bush' with them. The women were going to gather pandanus for basket making as well as the roots used for dyeing the pandanus, only found in a particular area in the deep bush. It was an honour to be invited along, but to be honest, I did not know the women at all well and I had only ever seen them sitting around camp fires in the middle of town. Having come in from their traditional tribal areas, they gathered together for days on end talking, being with each other and then they would vanish for a while again. So, I did not know what to expect.

Two things remain with me to this day from that experience. The first is just how much I suffered. We had no equipment, no tents or sleeping bags or cold drinks or folding chairs or any of the things that white folk might take on a camping trip. The women knew how to get bush tucker and water, when to move, and they were sensitive to the slightest change in vegetation that pointed to the small tree we were looking for. The tree had roots that were about three metres down in the soil, and had to be dug for by hand with a wooden digging stick which they did easily. They also knew how to expertly harvest the (razor sharp) leaves of the pandanus bush without shredding their hands. I, on the other hand, had no viable knowledge in that environment. I had heat stroke, slashed my hands on the pandanus till they bled, failed to dig for more that five minutes at a time so I was no use to them in gathering the dye roots--in fact, all up, I was probably a liability to them on the trip.

The second outstanding memory was the realisation, out there in the bush, that when people are in a context that is familiar, when their knowledge and skills are superbly matched to that particular context, when there is a close nexus between doing and being in place, people can enact their creative potential in powerful ways. Based on this and subsequent experiences and reflections over time, my underlying belief in occupational therapy is that what we really need to do is facilitate or enable the right conditions in which this transformative potential inherent in all people and in all communities can be liberated. The ultimate success of this approach is that we become redundant. …

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