Katie Strauss ’09

Child Life Specialist

In August 2010, after 32 hours of traveling, Katie Strauss walked into the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa. A certified child life specialist, she was there to volunteer her skills for three months in the Pediatric Burn Unit. Child life specialists work alongside medical staff to create a positive environment for children and their families in the hospital. Through play and art, they help kids understand everything that is happening around them.

After completing the Human Development and Family Studies program at URI, Strauss was looking for a way to obtain additional experience before joining the work force. During her internship at a New Jersey hospital, she heard about the program in Cape Town and couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Working in South Africa was unlike anything she’d ever done: “For the first two weeks, it was intense. Everything I saw I had never seen before, and every experience was foreign to me.” The children coming into the Burn Unit displayed wounds caused by open cooking fires, falling pans of boiling water, or electrical shocks. Many of them came from impoverished neighborhoods. In one-room houses constructed largely of tin sheeting, accidents were common.

Every morning Strauss worked with children in the Burn Unit as they underwent dressing changes: “It’s an extremely painful process and very scary for the children.” Strauss used aids like books, medical play kits, and breathing techniques to help them get through it.

“Throughout my time in South Africa, I realized what truly matters in life,” Struass said. “Happiness has nothing to do with material items; it is the memories you treasure, the experiences you have, and the people you have them with.”

Throughout her stay in South Africa, Strauss documented her experiences through her life-long hobby of photography. Her work, as well as her blog, can be seen at katiestrauss.com.

—Bethany Vaccaro ’06