When civil unrest in Nicaragua interrupted a fourth planned Doctor of Physical Therapy study abroad trip, students and faculty immersed themselves in the north coast of the Dominican Republic (D.R.) instead. Comunidad Connect, an in-country partner from Nicaragua, made the last-minute switch possible. In addition, the PT team gained a new local partner Health Horizons International, which provides health care in the north coast region of D.R.
Settled in the new country, PT students absorbed the unique tropical setting, working with patients and staff in a rural Catholic nursing home, where the oldest resident was 103. Students taught the residents exercises and ended the class with a dance. They also reviewed patient safety with nurses and other staff and provided one-on-one patient evaluations.
The Dominican Republic experiences several challenges with a large population of undocumented Haitian refugees living in its urban areas. In the community of Pancho Mateo, refugees struggle with lack of food, overcrowding, lack of access to education and employment and subsequent health issues, including uncontrolled high blood pressure and diabetes.
“We had the opportunity to help a community that is full of poverty and lack of resources. But what’s amazing is that to them this is a happy, wonderful life. Every individual we interacted with was filled with positivity and were thankful for our work and service,” said Cynthia Chambliss, third-year DPT student.
In an open-air Health Horizons International clinic, the students assessed and treated nearly 50 patients. They taught the community’s health promoters about the importance of physical therapy and exercise, even educating the promoters on proper lifting mechanics.
In the rural community of Severe, students worked on community projects tearing out a couple of walls and laying down a concrete floor. They also made home visits to area residents.
“I loved being able to interact with the local families, learn from them, listen and talk with them despite the language barrier and see the joy in these kids’ eyes when we played and laughed after a long day of work,” said Ashley Miller, another student participant. “Our time spent here is invaluable, and I am forever grateful to HHI and Comunidad Connect for making this trip a reality and to this community for allowing us to be a part of their lives even for a little bit.”
In addition to the hard work, students made time for sightseeing and recreation. However, even during fun times, the PT group was able to give something to the DR community.
“We enjoyed a super fun zip line experience, which included a jump into a bat cave. After our adventure, we learned that half of the adventure proceeds goes towards the nonprofit dental and medical clinic located there, which is open once a week and provides free dental, medical and pharmacy services to the community…” said Anne Lorio, associate professor of physical therapy.
Miller summed up the study abroad in a quote from Gandhi that the group used throughout the week.
“‘The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others,’” she said.
See more of the PT study abroad trip in this video.
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