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Mary Anne Cabelin - Medicine & Healthcare, Physiotherapy in Mongolia

My placement

I am currently on my way to being a senior at university as a biology major with an interest in physical therapy. During my second year, I was looking into different organizations that would allow me to volunteer in other countries to get experience in my future career and I stumbled upon Projects Abroad.

I did my research on the organization and the countries I wanted to travel to and Mongolia was the country that captured my attention. I did not know much about the country so I thought, "Why not find out for myself?"

After traveling there for a full month, I found more than what I was expecting and gained memories that I know I'll never forget – the amazing views, the language, the food, the hospitality of my host family, the hands-on experience from working in the hospital and the great handful of people that I met along the way.

My Physical Therapy placement

Fundraising event

My placement was in the physical therapy department of the Central State First Hospital of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. When I first arrived at the hospital, I was greeted by my supervisor and the staff that I would be working with. I also got a tour of the hospital and was shown where I would be changing into scrubs and where I would be working. There were three physical therapists that I mainly worked with and although they did not speak much English, we were still able to communicate and I was able to follow along. I was scheduled to work Monday through to Friday from 8:20am - 4:20pm at the hospital.

A typical day at the hospital would be cleaning or setting up the physical therapy room in the morning and then waiting for patients to come in and get their treatment. The treatment was manually done by the therapists and there were a rage of different exercises for all parts of the body. We also did occupational therapy, mainly with stroke patients, to regain function of their arms and to help them learn how to walk again.

Host family

My favorite part about working was being able to walk around and do rounds with the physical therapists. It was also great being able to see the progress of the patients. For instance, there was a patient who could barely walk on her first day with us and held on to us very tightly, but a few weeks later, she was able to walk on her own without any of our help. It was truly rewarding!

Other than working at the hospital, the Projects Abroad staff also had us doing volunteer work in Mongolia. Projects Abroad organized a fundraiser called, "Let’s Make Their Dreams Come True" which was to help students with cerebral palsy to continue their special talents at a professional school.

As a whole, we did not expect to raise much money because of the economy of Mongolia, but we ended up raising 1,115,820 tugrug, which is about $900 USD. Those who had cerebral palsy also came to the event and showed us their talent; it was amazing being able to see where our hard work was going to.

Living in Mongolia

Weekend trip

The Projects Abroad staff was one of the greatest group of people I've met. They were so welcoming and also helped us out with any questions or concerns. They always tried to make sure we were well taken care of. For example, sometimes I would stay out late to watch a movie with the group and would have to take a taxi ride home and because I did not speak much Mongolian, it was sometimes hard telling the driver where to go. At any time, even late at night, I was able to call my staff supervisor so that she could talk to the driver in order for me to get home. I truly appreciate all that they did for me when I was there.

My host family consisted of a grandmother, mum and two daughters. I was given my own room and was accommodated very well. I was their first host daughter and they made my experience in Mongolia wonderful. They treated me like one of their own and even though only one of the daughters could speak English and translate, I found other ways to communicate with the rest of the family, whether it was sign language or in writing.

They cooked such good food and always had snacks for me on the table. They also taught me how to cook traditional Mongolian food and took me to their home in the countryside. By the end of my trip, I didn't want to say goodbye, but I knew I would have a family in Mongolia forever and they would always be a part of my heart.

One of my favorite parts of being in Mongolia was meeting others from all around the world! The people I've met who went through Projects Abroad to volunteer are people I still contact today and really made my experience in Mongolia enjoyable. The diversity and culture in a group was nice to have and I am so glad that I chose Mongolia as the country to visit.

Volunteering in Mongolia

Additional things I did while being in Mongolia included: horseback riding, camel riding, holding eagles, visiting temples, living in Gers, seeing cultural shows, going to museums and seeing the most amazing views of my life! There are things that have still stuck onto me to this day, like when someone steps on my foot, I still try to shake their hands.

Some part of me will always be Mongolian and I can't wait to travel back and see how much the country has developed. Projects Abroad is so organized and I am very satisfied with how my whole entire trip went - I wish I had stayed longer than a month. Thank you Projects Abroad for giving me an experience of a lifetime!

Read more about Physical Therapy in Mongolia

Mary Anne Cabelin

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