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Ann Altemus - Physical Therapy in Nepal

As a first year student studying to be a Physiotherapy Assistant, I was looking for a summer of adventure. Being financially reasonable, the ability to be challenged in the physiotherapy profession and to make a difference is someone’s life, were my goals when searching for a summer programme. Once I discovered the Projects Abroad website I knew this organisation had what I was looking for. It was reasonably priced with locations throughout the world, and they offered the opportunity to practice the skills that I had learned during my first year of school. When I notice that Nepal was on the list of locations to go, I was sold. Nepal had been a dream of mine to visit.

Projects Abroad Staff

The staff from Projects Abroad was phenomenal from the start. They were there to answer any questions I had prior to applying for the Physiotherapy project in Nepal, and did so in a timely manner. Once I applied to the project they provided me with step-by-step direction on what to expect in the coming months and weeks. The staff was able assist me on what to pack, the required immunisations and more, they also ensured I had all the proper paperwork completed. They were even able to book my flight for a reasonable price.

As soon as I arrived in Nepal there was a Projects Abroad staff member waiting for me with a huge smile. He escorted me to the hotel where I stayed for the night. The next day I met with two staff members from Projects Abroad who introduced me to Nepal. This included receiving a brief overview on the culture, manners, and frequent vocabulary that is used in the country. They assisted me while getting my cell phone setup, exchanging my currency, and also gave me a tour of the main part of the city. Once the main introduction was completed they took me to my placement where I was able to see the physiotherapy clinic that I would be working at for the next five weeks.

The staff from Projects Abroad was truly phenomenal. They checked in with me once a week to ensure that I was enjoying my stay in Nepal. They always had excellent recommendations on activities to do, what places to eat and attractions to visit.

Host Family and Volunteers

During my time in Nepal I stayed with a host family and a few other volunteers in a home. The host family with whom I stayed was amazing and accommodating. I was welcomed by Santosh, Raju, and Rakshya when I first arrived. There are no words that can describe how welcoming, generous and helpful they were. They made sure that everyone was comfortable and enjoying their stay. They were eager to get to know all of the volunteers as well as teaching us about the Nepali culture.

There were several volunteers who stayed at the house while I was there. We came from all over the world and became good friends immediately. Our projects were in different specialties throughout Kathmandu, and it was nice to meet other volunteers on the evenings and weekends. It was a rewarding opportunity to meet with the other volunteers, to learn about them and their country as well as listen to their experiences that they had encountered during their stay in Nepal.

Physiotherapy Project

For five weeks I volunteered at the Sahara Physiotherapy Rehabilitation Hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal through Projects Abroad. The staff was welcoming, and willing to teach. They encouraged us to ask questions and to collaborate on ideas for alternative forms of treatment.

Each day I would report to my supervisor, Kaushal Das. While working under Kaushal, he taught me about the healthcare system for rehabilitation. He would also explain in detail the diagnosis of the patient and their treatment plan as we went along. During our down time in the clinic he was able to answer any questions I had about the physiotherapy profession in Nepal, the Nepalese people in general and the best food locations.

My responsibility was to treat patients who required physiotherapy. Most of the patients had a stroke, spinal injuries or Guillain-Barré syndrome. I would work with the patients on stretching, strengthening, balance as well as gait training. Some of the patients were inpatients and I was able to see them every day, which gave me the opportunity to observe their progress. I got quite invested in their treatments and had the opportunity to assist a patient during their attempt to walk after a few years of being bedridden. The patients were extremely motivated and determined to complete their exercises and show progression. The patients were welcoming as well, and were always smiling and laughing. They were curious of the volunteers and were willing to teach us as well by speaking the language, teaching us about the culture and advising us on the best places to see.

Weekend Activities

During the weekend I would meet with other volunteers and we would take a trip out of the city for the weekend. One weekend we took a bus to Chitwan National Park where we were given the opportunity to go on a jungle safari to see rhinos, crocodiles, and a lion with her cubs. My favorite weekend destination was Pokhara. That weekend was spent paragliding, boating, hiking and enjoying the breathtaking views of the Himalayas. Sometimes we would take day trips; one was spent white water rafting. Some days were spent in Thamel where we socialised with other volunteers, went shopping and spoke with the locals.

Final Thoughts

I intended to go to Nepal to volunteer at a physiotherapy clinic to help impact and change the lives of the Nepali people with whom I came into contact with, but really they were changing me. I forgot that I was there as a volunteer. Between the lessons that I learned with the staff at Sahara Physiotherapy Rehabilitation Hospital, my host family and what the Nepali people were able to share with me was illuminating. I am thankful for the opportunity to visit Nepal. The moments, the smiles, the laughter and new friendships that I was able to experience will be treasured and it was a trip I will never forget.

Ann Altemus

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