Laura Henry - Physical Therapy in Nepal
When I told my family and friends I was going to Nepal, the most common reaction I got was, “Where is that and why are you going?” I had never even been abroad before, so heading to a third world country was quite a big step for me. I had a couple months off from school before starting physical therapy school and thought that a different experience was just what I needed. So after I convinced my family and friends that this was a fabulous idea, I headed on my way!
Arrival in Nepal was quite the culture shock for me. I was lucky to spot the Projects Abroad representative quickly at the airport. The sights around me were captivating. There were people, garbage and cars everywhere. It seemed like complete chaos to me, but completely normal to everyone around me. I got to the hotel, met with the Projects Abroad manager, and was immediately excited to begin my placement. I was introduced to many other volunteers that night and headed out to Trisuli River to do some white-water kayaking the next day. It was nice to establish friendships with the other volunteers before beginning my placement.
Back from my exciting trip down the river, I was introduced to my family, the Pradhans. I was extremely fortunate to live with a Nepalese family. By living with them, I had a first hand experience of Nepal and was able to really appreciate the culture. Temple every Wednesday became a tradition with the family, always followed with buff mo-mos! As the Pradhans also housed seven college girls in their residence, I was able to connect with locals my own age, which was amazing. I learned so much about the history and culture of Nepal through talking each night with my family. The Pradhans were the greatest hosts and really made me feel like I was part of their family.
My placement, Patan Community Based Rehabilitation was a small school for children with mental and physical disabilities. I was lucky to have another volunteer who had been there previously, as the language barrier made it quite difficult to communicate with the teachers. Over the next two months, we established our own way of communication. I could tell the teachers at CBR really cared about the kids and were passionate about giving them an equal education. They were also passionate about erasing the stigma of disabled children in Nepal and worked tirelessly each day.
My primary job was to work with the children with physical disabilities. Most of the kids suffered from cerebral palsy and hemiplegia. At first, the children were very hard to work with because I was unfamiliar with them and their programs. Throughout the next two months though, I formed an amazing bond with each one of them. It brought such a good feeling when I saw recognition in a child’s eyes when it was their turn for therapy. One child, Prashesh, would laugh and smile each day when it was his turn to do some stretching and playing. Another child, Posan, who also spoke some English, would ask me each day when it was his turn because he was so excited to do his exercises and tell me about his day.
Working alongside an established physiotherapist was a great experience for me to learn about the profession before I started training. I got just as much learning each day as the children got exercise and therapy. We were also able to help train the teachers at CBR in the techniques we used with each child so that the treatments could be continued long after we were gone. We kept a binder full of information about each child and their program, hopefully making transitions between volunteers easy and lessening the shock of new people and hands for the kids.
Because of the stigma of disabled children in Nepal, most of the students at CBR were not given much attention at home. I took part of my time at CBR to interact with each of the children. Each day, they were given free time to play outside. This time became my favorite part of the day because I was able to play games with each of the kids and give them individual attention I felt they needed. The kids were the most fun, caring, amazing, carefree children I’ve ever met and I had the time of my life with them.
Another opportunity to work with kids came after the kids at CBR had gone home. We were able to visit Happy House Orphanage and play with the kids after school. The kids I met were so happy and energetic. Each day I went home exhausted from all the running and playing I did! They taught me new games and I tried to teach them some games I knew. Most of the children spoke English and were excited to learn more and get help on homework problems. I was very impressed with the importance of schooling to the children.
It was not all work in Nepal however! I was able to go on an white-water kayaking in the Trisuli River and visit some of the many beautiful temples of Nepal. After my placement, I was also able to take a week-long trek in the Annapurna Mountain Range. It was the most beautiful place I have ever seen! I am so happy with my decision to volunteer in Nepal and cannot wait to go back at some point in my life. It was truly an experience I will never forget.