As second year graduate students at St. Catherine University we committed to coming to Peru as part of our masters project last spring. At that time we had limited knowledge of seating and positioning and we were not quite sure what to expect. In preparation for coming to Peru we learned more about wheelchairs, brushed up our skills with tools, and became incredibly excited about the opportunity to travel to Peru for a hands on experience working with Eleanore’s project and Peruvian families. However, regardless of the amount of time we spent preparing, there is nothing could have really prepared us for the amazing and life changing experience that we have had over the past two weeks.
We have been both overwhelmed and amazed by the number of modifications that can be made to wheelchairs, despite time constraints and available resources. We have all enjoyed using our minds to be creative while practicing the fundamentals of occupational therapy (empowering children and their families, promoting independence, and providing ways for families to engage in meaningful activities). We have learned an incredible amount and have become much more confident in the skills that we have. Initially on our first day with the project we were incredibly overwhelmed and now as we approach our last day of wheelchair clinics we are able to take more initiative and do more on own. However, with this increased initiative also comes increased awareness that we have so much more to learn! Through our time here we have learned more than we could ever learn from a textbook and we will bring home so many memories and experiences that will forever be in our hearts.
Over the past couple of weeks we have heard families discuss their excitement about the new experiences that the wheelchairs will provide, including the ability to attend church and school and also being able to go to the park for the very first time. Some children will now be be able to eat at the table with their family and independently move through the environment without being carried on a parents back. For some children this was their very first chair while others have returned for a different chair. Regardless, they all now have a properly fitted wheelchair that will promote better posture while also improving quality of life. The magnitude of the work that has been done here already and will continue to be done in future is unfathomable.
This opportunity has been invaluable and we are so grateful to have had the chance to be a part of such a wonderful organization. We have been blessed to learn from the patient therapists that have given us numerous opportunities to learn about tools, hardware, positioning, and seating systems. It has been remarkable to be part of a team that does not stop until things are right, regardless of the number of hours that it takes to get there or how impossible it may seem, but because the child and the family deserve to have the best that we are able to give them. Being flexible and thinking outside the box are two big things that we have learned to really value, as we have learned this week that many things can be used in completely different ways. It has been challenging yet liberating to be able to use only the supplies and equipment that we have in front of us to create a seating system that is functional and beneficial for each child. This experience has also made us aware of just how much we take for granted, as we are used to having so many resources available at our fingertips. Being submersed into this cultural experience has given us a professional and personal opportunity of a lifetime, one that we will not soon forget!
Jenna, Sarah, Heidi, Elise, and Katie