Volunteer Reflection – Physiotherapy Students from Chile

This is an approximate translation – to read the original Spanish language article on UC website please click here.

Bernadette Valenzuela and María José Vicuña were volunteers in Haiti.

Two fourth year students from the UC Physiotherapy program spent 3 weeks in Haiti as volunteers of the “Tous Ensemble” Foundation. We invite you to read their experience in their own words:

Consuelo Alzamora is a Chilean Occupational Therapist. Just after finishing her studies, she volunteered in Haiti with the América Solidaria foundation and never returned. There she met her husband, found her purpose, and co-founded Tous Ensemble; which is the only rehabilitation center in southern Haiti. Consuelo directs the center, with two rehabilitation technicians trained in Haiti and two prosthesis makers, as well as support staff and professional volunteers from América Solidaria.

That was what we knew with when we embarked on an almost empty plane to one of the poorest countries in the Americas. Common comments from our relatives were: “Take care of yourself”, “Get vaccinated”, “Are you sure you’ll be able to do it?”, “Why do you want to go see so much suffering?”; however, the experience was a surprise to us both. Tous Ensemble is a foundation with a well-equipped rehabilitation center, with well-trained therapists and a wonderful purpose: to rehabilitate those who need it, regardless of whether they can pay or not. They take care of the entire population of southern Haiti, and not only in the field of rehabilitation, but any health problem they are able to address, a Vascular Brain Accident, to poorly cast bones and prosthesis manufacturing.

We learned as we have never done in a classroom, and in a tremendously meaningful way. We had just finished third year of Physiotherapy (a 5 year professional program in Chile), therefore, we knew very little about treatment. The lack of therapists at the center and the confidence they showed helped us catch up very quickly. The first days we observed, but then, with our precarious Kreyol, we began to take care of patients each time being able to contribute a little more until we understood that a physiotherapist does not need to have the best intellectual skills, but needs humanity. What we learned was that each patient has a history that can not be ignored, that education is fundamental, that very few words are needed to communicate and build rapport, and that the bonds that form in a therapy session can be as valuable as the therapy itself.

We think that an experience like this is very rare, because we are not used to putting on simple shoes and seeing beyond the obvious. Because of this we invite everyone to collaborate with Tous Ensemble in any way, we cannot turn a deaf ear to our Haitian colleagues, they need help and we have it in the palm of our hands.

 

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Authors Bernadette and Maria pictured with rehabilitation technicians Senat and Samuel, and patient (right).

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