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Janet Levingstone - Physiotherapy in Ethiopia

Birthday party Child learning to walk During my orientation to Addis Ababa I received a phone call asking if I could start my placement early. Firkirte, my supervisor wanted to take me out of Addis Ababa to see the Cheshire services which make splints and artificial limbs for the children under the care of Medical Missionaries of Mary (MMM). This keenness to show me as much as possible continued for the rest of my placement.

There was much to see as the disabled children’s team offer many services for those in their care; rehabilitation, educational support, nutritional support, counseling, income generating programs and support for the blind. This allows them to provide a very holistic service for some of the poorest children in Addis Ababa. These children had a wide range of conditions causing developmental delay and bone deformities. This meant a wide and varied program for my whole placement.

Mornings were spent in the physical therapy center at Kidane Mehiret Orphanage, the physical therapy center at Herbert Kindergarten, clinics at Blacklion hospital and doing home visits. I was surprised by just how little equipment they had to use. This meant I had to be inventive to make the treatments fun and keep the children engaged. In contrast to this if I recommended splints or a wheelchair they could get them custom made with less hassle and time than at home. It was very rewarding seeing the changes in these children.

Dinner with volunteers and staff

Afternoons were used for feeding programs and awareness programs (coffee ceremonies used for education on a variety of topics including disability and HIV). I felt very lucky to be invited into some of the poorest houses in Addis to participate in these coffee ceremonies, an experience other foreigners would never have. I also used the afternoons to prepare for 2½ day education sessions for the children’s parents and the 4 field workers on the team. Teaching through an interpreter with only a few sheets of paper as aides was an interesting experience. I hope that these sessions taught them some additional ways to help the children. I certainly learnt so much during my stay with them. I will now have a greater focus on education and a more holistic approach to treatments.

Rock church at Lalibela

My evenings and weekends were spent with my Ethiopian family or meeting the other volunteers for dinner or coffee. The Projects Abroad staff Sami and Bikeseng organized a trip to the cinema and dinner in a traditional Ethiopian restaurant where I got my 1st taste of Ethiopian food and dancing. While I learned to like the food I still can’t master the dancing. They also roped me into the Great Ethiopian 10k run on my last day. The streets were flooded with people in red t-shirts dancing, chanting and of course running creating a fantastic atmosphere for my last look around the fascinating city of Addis Ababa.

Traditional dress

I was very lucky that the family I stayed with also organized many activities for me. We went to up to Entoto to see the churches and lovely views over Addis, for coffee in their favorite cafes, to visit friends and family and shopping in Merkato and Shiro Meda markets. They also took me to a 1st birthday party and a christening. I was delighted to discover that their favorite pastime was watching Desperate Housewives or films to relax. Several of my colleagues also invited me for dinner and showed me around their neighborhoods. I managed to pack lots in. My only regret is that I couldn’t stay longer. Everybody is so welcoming and helpful and the children were full of fun and smiles. They gave me a great insight into the Ethiopian way of life and made it an experience I will never forget.

Janet Levingstone

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