Volunteer Review: Annie D., Physical Therapy in Nepal
I recently graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering and decided to pursue my Doctorate in Physical Therapy in order to combine my more technical education with my passion for helping others.
Due to the fact that I will be applying to various schools, and given the fact that I applied so late in the game, I unfortunately had to take a year off to ensure that I do as many observational hours as necessary. Projects Abroad’s program was truly a life changing discovery for me. The staff carefully assessed my needs as well as my qualifications and decided that the countries best suited for me would be Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, or Ghana.
Having always wanted to travel to Nepal, no sooner, my flights were booked and I was headed to a rural region of Nepal to volunteer for 4 weeks at the Chitwan Spinal Injury Center (CSIC) in the rehabilitation ward of Bharatpur Hospital!
Arriving in Kathmandu
I arrived at the Kathmandu airport at night, but that didn’t deter my Projects Abroad staff coordinator from finding me very quickly. In the bustle of the airport, I saw him holding up his sign and we immediately caught eyes.
He then whisked me away to Hotel Excelsior, winding through traffic with utmost expertise and at last we reached our destination. Here I was able to freshen up and eat my first Nepali meal, in addition to receiving an orientation, exchanging money, and meeting other volunteers before taking a bus to my new home for the next 4 weeks.
My host family
I cannot say enough about my wonderful host family and my incredible roommate, Claire, who was from Australia! I learned so much from my host family and bonded so well with Claire. By the time we parted ways, I felt like I had known her for ages. It was such a shame that she left a week before I did, but seeing how volunteers are always coming and going, it was not long before I got another roommate.
My host mom, Basanta, was a nursing professor and had to work a lot, however, when she was not home we were taken care of by her 19 year old niece, Prativa, who called us “Sis” from day one. She was the sweetest and most protective “sister,” and was not only balancing school and an internship at the time, but was always sure to provide us with a delicious meal when we got home from our placement.
One night we even had a momo (Nepali dumpling) making party where Claire and I learned the art of crafting the perfect momo. And just to further exemplify how loving they all were – the night before Claire left, we had an extravagant “sari party” where we dressed up in Basanta’s gorgeous saris, jewels and makeup, so we could take memorable pictures.
Working in Chitwan
Besides the fantastic hospitality, there was also my unforgettable volunteering experience at CSIC. Each weekday I would walk roughly 25 minutes from our home to my placement, and though there were tuktuks available to ride instead, I chose to leave home early to walk the entire route to sight see and watch people – something that is a cultural norm in Nepal. At first it was hard getting used to people staring, but we were told to take advantage of this rare opportunity and stare back to learn all that we could.
When I arrived at the project, I was greeted by Sagar, the physical therapist I spent the 4 weeks with. Needless to say, observing was not the right word to use. By the second day, I was helping transfer patients to the treatment mats and treating patients side by side with Sagar. I was so honored that Sagar entrusted me with their care and was in awe of such an opportunity.
Since I was working at an inpatient rehabilitation center, we saw the same four patients every day, many of whom had suffered severe spinal cord injuries and were left as paraplegics or quadriplegics. I got quite invested in their treatments and even had the pleasure of seeing one of them attempt to walk after almost a year of being bedridden!
I learned an a lot under Sagar’s supervision, especially how different the healthcare system worked for rehab related matters and the innovation that was required of therapists because the facility lacked many of the luxuries I was accustomed to in first-world healthcare settings. In addition to helping patients with manual therapy, I was also allowed to assist in ultrasound therapy and even got to go on rounds with the orthopedic residents in the morning where I witnessed other musculoskeletal cases.
When we had some down time in the clinic, Sagar was always eager to learn more about my family and experiences in the United States, as well as answer any questions I had with regards to the physical therapy profession, his past work experiences in Nepal, or just about Nepalese people in general. He also never failed to recommend the best places to spend our weekends.
Weekends in Nepal
Since all the volunteers had weekends free, we’d all plan our respective trips early in the week with the help of Projects Abroad staff. They were always available to talk and offer advice, from being homesick, general well-being, to weekend getaways. During my first weekend, I traveled to the Chitwan National Park where I got to see animals such as monkeys and rhinos. The weekend was relaxing and full of adventure.
The following weekend, I traveled north to Pokhara where we got to eat delicious food and actually paraglide over the beautiful mountains and water. Never in my life did I ever believe I would have the chance to paraglide, let alone in Nepal, and better yet, to have it all captured on a GoPro! The sights were amazing and even though I was a bit apprehensive at first because of the height, the moment we took flight I was captivated.
My final thoughts
My 4 weeks in Nepal flew by and before I knew it, I was getting ready to leave, but the only thing I would change about my trip would be to stay longer. I will never forget the caring smiles of all the locals and the diverse group of volunteers I met overseas. My Projects Abroad experience in Nepal not only gave me a unique experience at my placement, but more so, I made lifelong relationships with so many people. I can’t wait until I earn my Doctorate in Physical Therapy to go back and visit, but further, to be able to contribute in an even more meaningful way next time around.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.